Sarah Pratt, a Community Concepts Wellness shelter attendant, walks across the basketball court at the Lewiston Armory on Wednesday morning after applying arrows on the tarp covering it to mark where the food line begins. The facility has been turned into a homeless shelter, and for the next 60 days it will be able to house and feed up to 60 adults starting Wednesday afternoon. They are not able to accept children. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Officials held a news conference Wednesday hours before the first guests were set to be admitted into an emergency “wellness” shelter at the Lewiston Armory.

Sarah Pratt, a Community Concepts wellness shelter attendant, marks the start of the meal line at the Lewiston Armory on Wednesday morning. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Those involved said the shelter, designed to limit the amount of close interactions and overcrowding at the city’s existing shelters, is an example of the community coming together.

Lewiston nonprofit Community Concepts will run the day-to-day operations, with funding coming from Maine Housing. Several other local agencies and businesses have also played a role in the quick turnaround and search for supplies.

“This shelter behind us started with a conversation not quite two weeks ago,” said Shawn Yardley, CEO of Community Concepts. “It’s a testament to what can get done if people are committed to a single purpose.”

The center is intended to provide a safe location to shelter in place for those who don’t have a home during the pandemic, he said.

Following the 11 a.m. news conference, personnel at the Armory were to begin screening adults at 3 p.m. for the 24-hour shelter. Yardley said Wednesday that medical professionals will assist in the initial screening and train staff to take over from there.

The armory is set up to handle 60 adults, serving three meals a day, with access to clothing, laundry, showers, and hygiene kits. Community Concepts contracted with Bates College in Lewiston to provide the meals.

Community Concepts has estimated there are some 150 individuals living without shelter in  Lewiston.

Yardley said access will be on a first-come, first-serve basis, but there has been no running waiting list as the organization prepared the space. He said staff from the Trinity Jubilee Center and Community Concepts’ own case managers have been getting the word out to people in need.

During the Wednesday news conference, Yardley stood in front of dozens of cots lining the armory floor, all 6 feet apart. At the head of each cot was a storage container for each individual.

Fire Chief Brian Stockdale said the effort grew out of the city’s goal of reducing the spread of the coronavirus among its most vulnerable residents.

“This is a way for us to slow the spread,” he said, through cutting down on the amount of people living on the streets, who may be more likely to spread the virus.

Yardley listed off a number of local businesses, small and large, which have donated to the cause, including Home Depot, Walmart, BJ’s, Goodwill, Gendron & Gendron, and others who have donated supplies.

As officials rolled out the shelter plan last week, they also looked to Preble Street in Portland. The organization is operating a similar effort at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, aimed at providing emergency shelter in a setting that allows people to follow social distancing protocols.

Yardley said Wednesday that Preble Street “has been an incredible resource to us,” helping the organizers look at the procedures used in Portland.

Among them will be a set of ground rules regarding behavior and social distancing, with guests required to sign an agreement. Yardley said those at the shelter can leave the building, but will be encouraged to stay nearby, and will be checked back in each time.

Yardley said if a guest were to come back with symptoms, he or she would be referred to a nearby hospital.

“If some end up being ill, we would assist them in locating another option,” he said.

Yardley said a proposed budget was submitted last week to Maine Housing, and he’s optimistic the effort will stay within the budget.

The shelter is expected to be operating until at least June 30.

Sarah Pratt, a Community Concepts Wellness shelter attendant, marks the start of the meal line at the Lewiston Armory on Wednesday morning. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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