LEWISTON — It was the strangest thing. Dozens of city leaders — the fire chief, the deputy police chief, city councilors, code enforcement officers, detectives, patrolmen — and not one of them was saying a word.

At the latest Lewiston Unites forum, that was the idea. The meeting, attended by more than 100 people, was for the people. They got to voice their concerns and possible solutions while those in authority listened and observed.

“This room is holding, inside its walls, a great deal of power,” Shanna Rogers of Community Concepts said. “Tonight, we’re on equal footing and we have equal power.”

Deputy Chief James Minkowsky of the Lewiston Police Department was there with Sgt. Adam Higgins and several of his officers. When asked for comment, Higgins held up his hands defensively.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m just here to listen.”

And those were his final words. For the next two hours, the people spoke. They broke into teams and began a frontal attack on the many woes of downtown Lewiston.

Where to begin, right?

Many of the groups began with trash, empty buildings and downright ugliness.

“Housing and blight,” resident Pauline Gudas said. “And the absolute lack of pride — by some, not all — in where they live.”

Gudas, a former probation officer, described streets and yards strewn with garbage. She described hallways filled with so much trash, emergency exits are blocked. It’s easy to blame landlords (and many did), Gudas said. But the tenants themselves share some of the blame.

“If everyone did their part and picked up just their own yards,” Gudas said, “things would be a lot better.”

A Blake Street resident mentioned the problem of unsupervised children across the downtown area and earned nods of enthusiastic agreement.

“I have personally seen children, very young children, running rampant at all hours,” Rick White of Blake Street said. “When you’re seeing 2- or 3-year-olds running around with no parental supervision, it’s not a pleasant and safe environment.”

Melissa Dunn sees the same problems and the same issues she fretted over years ago. Crumbling tenements, trash everywhere and a high number of transients. There is a certain stigma to downtown Lewiston, she said, that often leads to these issues being minimized in favor of jokes and stereotypes.

“It’s just a kind of rhetoric that we don’t really need,” she said.

The problems seemed endless compared to the time they had to talk about them. The forum ran from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Longley Elementary School on Birch Street. There was addiction to talk about, mental illness, poverty and a lack of jobs.

At a different group gathering in another section of the building, a cluster of residents had their concerns written down on a big sheet of paper. The list included absentee landlords, the “deplorable condition” of many downtown buildings and the transients who live in them.

Around the corner in the gymnasium, yet another group was vigorously discussing the issues. On their list were the “rape of the city,” lack of opportunities for youth, food insecurity and “landlords who bleed property for financial gain.”

On the other side of the gym, yet another group was hard at work. They were talking about the lack of community cohesion, the growing drug problem and the potential for replacing demolished buildings.

Educating the masses is a big part of the solution, members of that group tended to agree.

“There are a lot of people, like us, who believe in the city,” resident Curtis Roundy said, “but they don’t know what to do.”

After an hour of discussion, the groups came together again. They compared their concerns as well as suggestions to address them. All of this before a sizable crowd of people in authority who might be able to help. The police administrators, city councilors, the fire chief and the rest of them came away with a lot of input from the people most directly affected by conditions in the downtown.

Problem solved? Not quite, Rogers said. But it’s a step in the right direction.

“I saw people listening, really listening, to their neighbors,” she said. “Talking about the problem is easy. It’s hard to talk about solutions.”

It may be hard, but there was no shortage of suggestions. And according to their own notes, Lewiston Unites is all about workable solutions, rather than a lot of lip service.

“This is not a dreaming session,” it states in the group literature. “This is a forum to discuss real and immediate solutions. Solutions that we can implement both independently and collectively.”

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