Lewiston OKs women's shelter on Central Avenue

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The building at 2 Central Ave. in Lewiston will become a 10-bed homeless shelter for women. 

LEWISTON — The St. Martin de Porres Residence will open a second 10-bed homeless shelter, after receiving approval from the City Council this week. 

St. Martin’s has operated a 10-bed shelter on Bartlett Street serving mostly homeless men since 1991 and the location on Central Avenue will allow the organization to have two, separate 10-bed shelters for both men and women. 

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Brother Irenee Richard, executive director of the nonprofit group, told the City Council on Tuesday that there is, and has been, a need for beds for women in Lewiston. 

“Every day we get calls for beds for women,” he told councilors, adding that the group feels it’s best to separate genders. “It’s become evident there is a need for a women’s shelter, for many reasons.” 

In order to receive approval for the additional shelter, the property at 2 Central Ave. had to be rezoned, which was supported unanimously by the Planning Board and the council this week. The building shifted from the office residential zone to neighborhood conservation B. 

According to a memo to the council from City Planner David Hediger, the female-only facility will be open from 5 p.m to 7 a.m daily, while providing breakfast and dinner to guests only. The same rules apply at the Bartlett Street men’s shelter. 

In a request letter to the city, Richard said the new residence will be known as the Catherine of Siena Residence, which will be open to women 18 and older.

He said all guests are screened and referred to the group by local social service and mental health agencies, hospitals, law enforcement, or rehabilitation facilities. Before being allowed admission, each guest must agree in writing to be sober and free of drugs, Richard’s letter said. 

“We work hard to insure our facility is safe for our guests and our neighbors, and we have a long history of success,” he said in the letter. 

St. Martin de Porres celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. At the time, Richard estimated the organization assists about 150 people a year, and said he was planning to open the second residence. He started the organization in 1991 and has since run it with a solid base of volunteers. The Bartlett Street location is directly behind the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. 

Those helped by the St. Martin residence include people struggling with substance abuse; evicted from homes; released from prison; and suffering from mental illness.

The Central Avenue building is a single-family dwelling at Central Avenue and Sabattus Street, and has some historical significance. Its history also lends itself to the St. Martin mission.

The property was formerly operated as St. Andre’s Group Home, serving unwed mothers for years. Many of the women were homeless. 

“It is basically the perfect fit for us,” Richard said in his letter. 

Hediger said in a memo to the Planning Board and City Council that city staff supported the organization’s request for a zone change for a number of reasons. He said it includes that the number of occupants is limited, the property is within walking distance of various services, and is along the citylink bus route.

“There are a limited number of homeless shelters in Lewiston/Auburn and there is an apparent need for more assistance,” Hediger said. “While this contract rezoning is not specifically limited to St. Martin de Porres’ operation of a shelter facility at 2 Central Ave, they currently have a very well run and respected facility on Bartlett Street of which the same should be expected for this site.” 

No one from the public spoke about the rezoning at Tuesday’s meeting.  

Mayor Robert Macdonald said prior to the vote Tuesday that he hoped the rezoning would be “quick and painless.”

“When God wants something, he makes it happen,” Richard said.

arice@sunjournal.com 

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