Sarah Pratt, a Community Concepts Wellness shelter attendant, walks across the basketball court at the Lewiston Armory before it opened April 22 as a temporary homeless shelter. It hosted 50 people Wednesday night, 10 short of capacity. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Officials estimate that the emergency shelter at the Lewiston Armory could be at capacity by this weekend.

The 24-hour adult shelter, which opened April 22, hosted 50 people Wednesday night. It has 60 beds.

Shawn Yardley, CEO of Community Concepts, the nonprofit managing the shelter, said Thursday that  he’s expecting the numbers to reach 60 by this weekend.

He said those working on the shelter, from city leaders to local nonprofits, didn’t know what to expect when the shelter opened a week ago, and that the numbers could fluctuate depending on the time of month, the weather and other factors.

“Obviously we’re meeting a need,” he said. “I think the word of mouth is that it’s a safe place and people are treated well.”

The facility has been funded by MaineHousing.

The shelter was modeled after a similar effort at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, aimed at providing emergency housing in a setting that allows people to follow social distancing protocols. All cots are placed at least 6 feet apart, and occupants are screened before they are admitted.

A Lewiston Police Department cruiser sits in the parking lot between Lewiston Middle School and the Armory Thursday afternoon. A man heads to the designated smoking area next to the Recreation Department facility that has been turned into a temporary homeless shelter and nearing capacity. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Organizers have said the shelter is designed to limit the amount of close interactions and overcrowding at much smaller shelters in the city.

Earlier on Thursday, the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced there had been an outbreak of at least 20 new COVID-19 cases at the Hope House homeless shelter in Bangor.

Asked about the risks, Yardley said the outbreak “speaks to the challenges we’re facing” given that many people can be asymptomatic. The former Hope House administrator said the Bangor shelter is “well-run” and had been screening individuals.

However, he said, the amount of space provided at the armory is an important factor, and they are enforcing social distancing guidelines there. A few people have been asked to leave due to behavior, he said.

“Lewiston has been lucky,” he said. “Hopefully what we’re doing will lower the risk. It won’t eliminate it completely, but we’re doing our best to make sure social distancing is occurring.”

Overall, he said, the shelter has been successful in its first week. Bates College in Lewiston is providing three meals a day, donations have been coming in from several regional businesses, and the newly-acquired staff has “come together”

“It’s gone really well,” Yardley said. “Obviously when you bring a large group together, you have the normal conflicts that can erupt in a setting like that.”

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

The shelter is expected to operate until at least June 30.


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