Complaints are down and attendance is up at the new teen center.

PORTLAND (AP) – Teenagers have a new place to hang out in Portland, keeping them off the streets and away from temptation.

The Preble Street Teen Center opened last month in the former Casco Paper Box Co. building in Portland.

For many street teenagers, stepping into the courtyard of the new teen support center can be the first step toward getting off the street, earning a diploma, landing a job or getting needed counseling.

Keeping the teenagers off the streets and away from merchants and residents is a key goal of the center, and it appears to be working.

Portland’s Downtown District has received far fewer youth-related complaints from Old Port merchants than it did last year, Executive Director Rena Masten said.

The center’s staff also is seeing more young people than it did at the former site. The staff is making more referrals to social services and returning more teenagers to their families or to foster homes. The center served 836 nutritious meals in June.

The center’s new building was bought and renovated by the Preble Street Resource Center. The social service agency is expanding its adult and juvenile facilities through a $6 million capital campaign.

The modern teen facility includes a lounge, a kitchen, meeting rooms and showers, as well as offices for the Preble Street Resource Center.

It replaces the cramped and inadequate space that Preble Street used in the Chestnut Street United Methodist Church.

“We now have running hot water to our health clinic,” Kristen Powell, youth outreach coordinator, said with a smile.

The last clinic was in a women’s bathroom that had only cold water, she said.

The comfortable and clean appointments have their own importance, said Jon Bradley, assistant director of the Preble Street Resource Center.

“The most significant change is, if you give them a place that shows you value them, they’re more likely to value themselves,” he said. “By giving young people this space, it says that they’re worth something.”

Young people who routinely visit the center say they like having a place to spend time, get a healthy meal and talk to a supportive adult.

Joshua Foster, 19, said that just having a place to go is important.

“When you’re not working, there’s no place to be, really. At least there are people here,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize how important it is to be around people, and not just your family.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.