PORTLAND, Maine — Preble Street, a human services agency located in Portland, is collaborating with the University of Southern Maine (USM) to provide a 50-bed wellness center at Sullivan Gymnasium, located on USM's Portland campus. The shelter, which will be open 24 hours a day, will seek to help those experiencing homelessness in Portland and help practice social distancing.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, questions of how to best serve the homeless population and the need for social distancing have been addressed. This collaboration is in response to Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine CDC guidelines to adhere to social distancing recommendations in an attempt to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.
The Sullivan Wellness Center will be operated by Preble Street. Maine State Housing Authority and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will also be assisting with the center.
"MaineHousing is providing Preble Street with a grant to cover the cost of running the shelter beyond what can be donated or provided by other agencies," USM said in a press release. "This includes some staffing, contracted services such as food and security, and necessary equipment and supplies."
“Because we’re extremely concerned about the potentially devastating effects of the COVID-19 public health crisis on people who are the most vulnerable — homeless and immunocompromised — we're grateful to be working with the University of Southern Maine, the State of Maine, and MaineHousing on an immediate and concerted response to meet their needs,” Mark Swann, Preble Street’s executive director, said. "While countless messages implore us to stay home, hundreds of people served by Preble Street don't have a home. Our job, our mission has always been to make sure they are fed, sheltered, and safe. None of that changes, even when a virus is spreading across the nation.”
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the University of Maine System last week. The memorandum states that "Universities will coordinate with the Maine Emergency Management Agency to use its facilities, supplies, services, and even people all across the State to help however and wherever they are needed."
Maine Housing and DHHS will do their part to ensure comfort to those utilizing the center while protecting public health. Health screenings will be completed prior to entry.
USM's food service provider, Sodexo, will provide food service which will give needed employment to some of their employees during this time.
The Sullivan Wellness Center will be open as soon as possible. It will be open 24 hours a day and will remain open as long as physical distancing requirements are in place or until the University reopens to the public.