Portland, Maine — The University of Southern Maine is working with Portland-based human services agency, Preble Street, to host a 50-bed wellness center inside the Portland Campus’s Sullivan Gymnasium as additional space for people currently experiencing homelessness in Portland to practice social distancing.
The move is a response to the COVID-19 outbreak and a surge in the need for homeless beds that conform to the social distancing guidelines of the Maine CDC. Serving both men and women, the temporary Sullivan Wellness Center will be operated by Preble Street, with assistance by the Maine State Housing Authority and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
MaineHousing will be providing Preble Street with a grant to cover their cost of running the shelter beyond what can be donated or provided by other agencies. This includes some staffing, contracted services such as food and security, and necessary equipment and supplies
The center will open as soon as possible.
“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,” said Mark Swann, Preble Street’s executive director. “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.”
The creation of the Sullivan Wellness Center is part of a statewide effort by Maine’s public universities to respond to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
Last week, the University of Maine System signed a Memorandum of Understanding through which the 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.
“USM stands ready to assist DHHS, Maine Housing Authority and community members in the city of Portland by providing Sullivan gym as a temporary shelter for individuals who are experiencing homelessness,” said Nancy Griffin, USM’s chief operations officer. “We know that this vulnerable population needs assistance and as a community partner we here to do our part.”
The center will be open 24 hours a day.
MaineHousing and DHHS are providing supplies to ensure comfort and protect public health, including health screenings prior to entry. The University’s food service contractor, Sodexo, which typically operates out of the neighboring Woodbury Campus Center, will provide the food service, giving needed employment stability to some of their workers during this time.
The temporary shelter is expected to remain open as long as physical distancing requirements are in place or until the University is able to reopen to the public.