People tour the men’s dormitory at the new Homeless Services Center in the Riverside neighborhood of Portland on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland has officially opened its new Homeless Services Center in a move that will increase shelter capacity and is expected to transform the way the city and its partners respond to the needs of homeless people.

Plans for the new shelter have been in the works for years and it opens at a critical time, as Portland is struggling to keep up with an influx of asylum seekers that have added significantly to the homeless population.

The city hosted a grand opening and ribbon cutting for the facility Wednesday, though people aren’t expected to be spending the night there until early next week.

The center at 654 Riverside St. will have the capacity to house 208 people and will offer on-site wrap-around services including meals, healthcare and programs to help clients reenter the workforce and find transitional housing.

It replaces the Oxford Street Shelter, a converted apartment building and auto garage that houses 154 people.

“This is a milestone because now we can begin serving clients in a space that can actually meet their needs and will address people’s trauma and help them get back on their feet,” said Mayor Kate Snyder.


The city is currently providing shelter for about 1,100 people per night. Most of them are asylum seekers, including about 70% of those staying at Oxford Street and an even larger percentage at the family shelter on Chestnut Street.

More than 780 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland since Jan. 1.

The new Homeless Services Center in the Riverside neighborhood of Portland opened on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


The new shelter includes an on-site health clinic that will be run by Greater Portland Health and provide medical and dental services and substance use and mental health treatment, both to people at the shelter and in the community at large.

It also includes a bed for every guest, whereas most clients at Oxford Street Shelter sleep on mats on the floor.

Meals will be provided by the Preble Street Food Security Hub and the city is also working with other community partners, including Amistad and the Opportunity Alliance, to provide additional services including help reentering the workforce and finding transitional housing.


The shelter has a larger outdoor space, lockers for guests and will provide consistent space for people to go during the day, a service that has been difficult at Oxford Street due to a lack of space, said interim City Manager Danielle West.

The shelter is located in the Riverton neighborhood, on the outskirts of the city and about a 20-minute drive from downtown, but West said there will be a shuttle to transport people.

Anya Caron poses for a portrait in the cafeteria and daytime space of the new Homeless Services Center in the Riverside neighborhood. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“One thing that will help is having services on site,” she said. “A lot of the need to go downtown may be alleviated because we will have medical care here, we’ll have the services from Amistad and others and food will be coming. Everything will be here, so that will be really helpful.”

She said the city has also established a neighborhood advisory committee to gather feedback on how the shelter is operating and address any concerns.


Kathy Buxton, a member of the executive board of the Riverton Neighborhood Association who serves on the advisory committee, said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the new shelter.


“The space is beautiful,” said Buxton. “The neighborhood has had the same concerns all along about safety and security, but I think there are some good plans in place and they want to be good partners with the neighborhood.”

Anya Caron, who stayed at Oxford Street last year for about six months, said she was pleasantly surprised after touring the new center, but remains concerned about the location.

“My only problem so far is that it’s away from downtown Portland,” where many people seek services and have appointments, Caron said.

She was among a handful of speakers featured at Wednesday’s opening and said she thinks the shuttle will help. “If there’s a shuttle then I have no problem with this place,” Caron said.

Individuals line up Wednesday to try to get a bed for the night at the Oxford Street Shelter in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Outside the Oxford Street Shelter on Wednesday, Sean Franklin said some people are echoing worries about being far away from downtown.

“Once they get there and see the place and the surrounding area, their attitudes will change,” said Franklin, who is also a member of the advisory committee and has been staying at the shelter.


“It will be a good move,” he said. “It’s more space. Better services.”

Residents concerned that the new shelter would be too large were successful in getting a citizen-initiated referendum before voters in November 2021 that would have limited most new shelters to just 50 beds, but the measure was defeated.

Stephanie Neuts, who served as president of the Portlanders for Smaller Shelters group that initiated the referendum, said Wednesday that she remains disappointed by the shelter’s size.

Neuts said she had spoken to homeless people who wanted to see a smaller space, but she said she hopes that the new building is successful and was grateful that a medical clinic is included.

Attendees of the grand opening of the new Homeless Services Center in the Riverside neighborhood of Portland listen to Portland Mayor Kate Snyder. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

“I’m happy they’re trying to do something that will work for everyone and hope the plans they have to make this work for the neighborhood and those needing shelter will be successful,” Neuts said. “I think we wait and see and hope for the best for the community and those needing a place to call home until they get back on their feet.”



The City Council approved building the new shelter in Riverton in 2019 and in 2021 selected Developers Collaborative to build it and lease it back to the city.

Developers Collaborative founder Kevin Bunker said the project was originally estimated at $25 million but came in about $1 million under budget.

The city paid $6.5 million upfront for the building, using $3.5 million in city-allocated American Rescue Plan Act funding and $3 million from Cumberland County’s ARPA funding.

Developers Collaborative financed the remaining cost and will be leasing the building to the city with the option for the city to buy it for $1 after 25 years.

The city also leases the current Oxford Street Shelter building at 203 Oxford St., and city officials said Wednesday that it will be up to the owner to determine the future of that space.

Paperwork filed with the Portland Development Corporation last month by Tom Watson & Co., which is planning a major redevelopment in the Bayside neighborhood, calls for the demolition of the Oxford Street Shelter and its potential use as a construction staging area.

A spokesperson for the company did not respond to a phone message or email Wednesday afternoon seeking an update on plans for the shelter building but said last month that they were still being developed.

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