Scarborough hotel scrambles to stem high number of police calls

The Comfort Inn & Suites in Scarborough was the source of 187 calls to emergency services between Jan. 1 and May 12, but the hotel owner is working with police to stem the number of calls. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

A hotel-turned-shelter in Scarborough has received a significant number of emergency service calls so far this year, straining the city’s public safety resources and jeopardizing the hotel’s license renewal hotel.

The Comfort Inn & Suites on Route 1 provides temporary housing for approximately 70 people who are placed there through The Opportunity Alliance, a Cumberland County social service organization that helps people find temporary, short-term housing. duration.

The hotel originated 187 calls to emergency services between Jan. 1 and May 12, according to police chief Mark Holmquist, compared to 101 calls in 2021.

The Opportunity Alliance declined to comment for this story and referred questions to the Maine State Housing Authority, which helped fund some of the placements and services.

“We appreciate the efforts of The Opportunity Alliance, as well as the efforts of hotel management there,” said Scott Thistle, director of communications at MaineHousing.

Scarborough Police and The Opportunity Alliance worked with the new owner of the Comfort Inn, AJ Dhillon, “to try to tie us in to the root cause of what’s going on there,” Holmquist said.

Dhillon took over in March – a month in which public safety responded to 92 calls there. With a norm of three officers and one supervisor per shift, Holmquist said, calls are straining the department.

“In March, we spent a lot of time in this place alone,” he said. “Officers would have to support each other at the Comfort Inn and then they’d get another priority call in town that would leave an officer there alone.”

Since taking office, Dhillon has installed security cameras, working with police to stem the number of calls.

“Whenever (the police) want the footage, it’s available to them,” he said.

Dhillon also hired a private security company, which has already had an impact. The hotel received 33 calls in April, according to Holmquist, and is on track to have a similar number this month.

Cameras and extra security have helped, but Lauren Dembski-Martin, the police department’s social services navigator, said they’re only part of the solution. She has spent about six hours a week at the Comfort Inn for the past month, providing lodgers with “light” services, she said, such as helping tenants with housing applications and SNAP benefits.

People need more help, Dembski-Martin said.

“What we need most are mental health services, more housing resources, more at the state level,” she said. “We put this bandage on these people. Continuity of care and having safe housing is a bit in limbo. It’s frustrating, but we were definitely able to help some people.

The scenario at the Comfort Inn is not the same as at many other southern Maine hotels that are used as homeless shelters, Dhillon said. These hotels provide longer term accommodation for homeless people and asylum seekers, mostly nationals.

“Most people, we don’t have them here long term,” he said. “They are not (chronically) homeless. It’s basically someone who is displaced and loses their home.

However, some people are forced to stay longer than expected while waiting for permanent accommodation.

“These waiting lists can go on for months or years,” Dembski-Martin said.

LICENSE RENEWAL

City Council had scheduled a vote on the Comfort Inn license renewal for May 18, but tabled it until June 8 for further review and consideration of any conditions it might attach to the renewal.

License renewals are usually done by the city clerk, but the council reviews any hotel for renewal that has received 30 or more emergency calls year-to-date.

Four other hotel license renewals were filed last Wednesday. Fairfield Inn on Cummings Road received 84 emergency service calls; Extended Stay America on Ashley Drive, 66; America’s Best Value Inn on Route 1, 39; and Candlewood Suites on Roundwood Drive, 36.

The Opportunity Alliance has placed some people in these hotels, Holmquist said, but “certainly the Comfort Inn is Opportunity Alliance’s biggest customer here in Scarborough.”

Not all emergency calls are directly related to hotels, Holmquist said. Some may come from incidents near a hotel and be assigned to that address. Of the Comfort Inn calls, for example, eight traffic stops and five non-criminal police calls were attributed to the location.

The Comfort Inn also had 17 theft, 14 disorder, 12 drug, 12 mental health and 11 criminal trespassing calls between Jan. 1 and May 12.

Last week, the city council proposed a condition for the renewal of the licenses of the five hotels: the license will be revoked if the hotel generates calls that cause “an unreasonable or undue burden on public safety”. The board also proposed two additional conditions for licensing Comfort Inn: it must provide “continuous on-site security” and have someone providing service on-site Monday through Friday, eight hours a day.

Dhillon already meets the safety standard.

“We’re new in town,” Dhillon said. “It’s something we’ll stick to no matter what the city wants us to do.”

Thistle, of Maine Housing, said hotel owners like Dhillon play an important role.

“We appreciate hotel owners who are willing to work and help provide this essential shelter,” he said. “A lot of times they get a bit demonized because of these issues, but they do a great service in providing a place to shelter these people.”

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Sandy A. Greer