Greetings, again, friends and neighbors,
Today’s Scarborough adventure is based on two recent reports of heroic actions by members of the Police Department. And we can’t imagine two more different views of the Town from these reports. From heart-warming to bone-chilling in the blink of an eye.
Let’s begin with heart-warming… one of those “I must be in Mayberry” kind of moments. You know, the kind of story Town Manager Tom Hall and his relentless PR team like to splash all over social media and the front page of the Leader.
Here’s an excerpt from the May 6-12 Police Department Weekly Report:
On 05/11 officers responded to the area of 200 Route 1 for what was initially reported as a possible motor vehicle accident involving a pedestrian. It was quickly learned that no one was hit by a car, but that a citizen was by the roadway trying to help some ducklings that had fallen down a storm drain.
Officers Shawn Anastasoff and Sgt. Craig Hebert called for backup in the form of Department of Public Works employee Dan Desimio who responded with a net. Dan was able to retrieve the ducks and delivered them back to mom who had refused to leave the area without her babies. A special thanks to our officers and a well deserved great job DPW employee Dan Desimio!
Hats off to those involved in this rescue! We’re awarding the maximum of five fuzzy bunny rabbit tails to this feel-good story!
On to the Darker Side
The other PD report was also of heroic activity, but in a much darker setting just down the road from the duckling incident. Here’s an excerpt from the PD Weekly Report for April 29-May 5:
On December 9, 2021, Officer Holly Thompson was dispatched to the Comfort Inn for a reported drug overdose. Upon arrival, Officer Thompson located a male and female in a hotel room. The male was unconscious, unresponsive, and had irregular breathing.
Officer Thompson had equipped herself with NARCAN while other officers on scene prepared an AED. Officer Thompson administered Narcan to the male. Within several minutes, the male’s breathing became stronger and his skin color returned to normal. The male became conscious and was provided further medical aid.
Due to Officer Thompson’s expeditious Narcan deployment and calm demeanor during a stressful situation, the male fully recovered.
Congratulations to Officer Thompson on receiving the Life Saving Award!
Comfort Inn Homeless Shelter Update
At the May 18 Town Council meeting we learned even more disturbing details of the situation at the Comfort Inn on Route 1 near the entrance to The Downs.
+ A representative of The Downs noted that they were receiving reports from residents of used needles in and around residential buildings near Route 1.
+ One resident of The Downs said that she and other parents of high school students are not allowing their kids to walk along Route 1 by the Comfort Inn out of concern for their safety.
+ There appear to be no meaningful support programs in place at the Comfort Inn as are found in well-managed homeless shelters.
+ The Chief of Police acknowledged that there are registered sex offenders staying at the Comfort Inn, but he has no way of knowing if all of the sex offenders currently residing there are in compliance with their required reporting of their residence.
When does a hotel become a homeless shelter?
Based on public discussions, here’s our best summary of what’s going on at the Comfort Inn from a financial/operational perspective. The hotel owner has a contract with Opportunity Alliance of Portland to house individuals at the hotel through October 31, 2022. (The reason that the hotel’s license application stated that there are no such contracts was glossed over in the meeting.) Opportunity Alliance appears to be paying the hotel a flat daily rate per room. The source of Opportunity Alliance’s funding was not disclosed at the meeting. If Opportunity Alliance is providing any of the many types of program support that typically are associated with a homeless shelter, they certainly weren’t noted at the Town Council meeting.
It is critical to understand that, except for shelters for unaccompanied youths, homeless shelters are not licensed by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services. Nor does Maine Housing license homeless shelters. Maine Housing does have robust program requirements for when it funds homeless shelters operated by others. But Maine Housing does not appear to be funding the Comfort Inn arrangement.
The key take-away here: Homeless shelter licensing is the responsibility of local municipalities. As a (frightening) result, the Comfort Inn is essentially operating a homeless shelter in Scarborough with no meaningful oversight by the Town or anyone else.
Other Maine communities have recognized the lack of State oversight and established or updated their own ordinances to regulate, oversee or license homeless shelters. Portland, South Portland, Brunswick, Lewiston and Farmington are among them. But not Scarborough. It’s unfortunate that the Town Manager has been so busy fanning the flames of residential growth that he apparently didn’t have time to prepare Scarborough for this very foreseeable issue.
More homeless encampments?
Even as the homeless shelter issue remains unresolved, the likelihood of more and larger homeless encampments looms in Scarborough. What? You didn’t know we already have at least two homeless encampments in Town? We only know that there are multiple encampments because of a report noting that the Police Department’s Social Services Navigator recently made “outreach to one of the local homeless encampments.”
So how many encampments are there? Two? Four? More? We’ve heard about the area behind Marden’s for some time but we don’t know the other locations.
We hope that the Town Manager is on top of this potential issue – which has obvious public safety implications, both for those encamped and Scarborough residents who may be impacted by them.
Next steps… better late than never
What’s next in the course of the Town’s all-too-rapid introduction to the many challenges of homelessness? We wish we knew. At their meeting, the Town Council tabled the Comfort Inn’s hotel license renewal application… which appeared to be on its way to rejection. Apparently the Council will reconsider the application at its June 8 meeting. But there was no discussion of what will happen in the meantime.
If they effectively close down the Comfort Inn by revoking its innkeepers license, what happens to the 65-70 folks who are currently housed there? Do they get a ride back to Portland? Or do we expand our current homeless encampments? It’s clearly a very complex problem, and one that deserves much more public discussion than it has received.
It was also disappointing that there was no consideration of holding a workshop on the broader issue of homelessness in Scarborough so that residents could have a basic understanding of the scope of the issue and possible solutions. Equally disappointing was the lack of even a suggestion of creating an ordinance for licensing homeless shelters.
We’ll have to wait until June 8 for answers. We’ll keep you posted.
That’s all for now. We hope to have less disturbing news to report in our next blog post!
Oh, and, Andy, be sure to say hello to Aunt Bea for us!
Until next time, be neighborly!
(nom de blog of Steve Hanly)