City Council again files action over Scarborough hotel license

The number of police calls to the Comfort Inn & Suites in Scarborough was reduced to 33 per month in April and May. File photo

SCARBOROUGH — Scarborough City Council has once again filed for Comfort Inn’s license renewal on the condition that the applicant continue to implement new safety protocols, employ on-site and licensed consultancy services and address numerous risks for the safety of persons reported by the fire chief.

“We cannot say that either of these conditions as proposed have been fully met,” City Manager Tom Hall said. “I think the efforts certainly cannot go unnoticed in terms of meaningful progress towards meeting those conditions, but as we sit here tonight, neither is fully satisfied.”

“It was an emotional evening,” said City Council President John Cloutier. Scarborough City Council, held on July 20, brought action back on the application to renew an innkeeper’s license for the Comfort Inn, located at 329 U.S. Route 1. This item was originally filed during of the June 8 city council meeting.

Several hotels and motels in Scarborough are used to provide temporary housing for homeless people or asylum seekers. The Public Safety Department has seen a significant increase in demand for police, fire and EMS services at many of these hotels, city officials said. The Comfort Inn on US Route 1 is currently closed for public reservations and is operating as a temporary housing unit. Portland’s Opportunity Alliance is funding the cost.

According to a statement sent by Scarborough Police Chief Mark Holmquist as of July 15, the Scarborough Police Department has received 248 calls for service at the Comfort Inn and Suites since Jan. 1, with a total of 308 offenses generated by these calls.

Many residents of the Comfort Inn and Suites attended July 20 in person. They took advantage of the workshop to discuss their thoughts and feelings about the renewal and what it would mean for them if the permit was not renewed. They shared their stories of how having a roof over their heads and access to basic necessities like a hot shower transformed their lives and helped them overcome trauma, addiction and disease. Denial of the license would displace all 91 current residents and likely require housing assistance through the city’s general assistance program.

Residents who spoke on the podium said that since the Comfort Inn’s new owners got rid of residents using large amounts of drugs, it made the hotel safe again for residents. Most of the hotel residents said they wouldn’t have stayed at first because the drug use was so bad.

“The owners have taken action,” said Raul Castrello. The people there are old people and people who need this place who will walk the streets if we don’t have it. Living lives and doing things that I’ve done in the past, and I’m ashamed of having a long criminal history because of drug addiction and lack of housing, and just being on the streets and doing what I had to do. I am very grateful for this place. I am very grateful to the owners who made it a safer place.”

Catherine Peccarero, a resident of the Comfort Inn, spoke fondly of how the hotel gave her a sense of security after she lost her last home due to the sale of the building by its elderly landlord.

“I was homeless; ” she says. “I spent my savings, which wasn’t much, but it was about $5,000, to pay for hotel rooms each night for my adult son and my disabled grandson. We slept in the car. I went there and rented a van, and my son has two jobs, and I rented a caravan to sleep in. I never thought that after my retirement, I would be in there. I’ve never been homeless in my life, and it’s scary. I feel safe for the first time in months.

The Board was unanimous in its decision to table this item at its September 21 meeting.

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Sandy A. Greer