Bill Storm of the Lewiston Building Maintenance Division pulls up tape at the Lewiston Armory on Tuesday. The building was being used as a temporary emergency shelter. Sleeping cots are stacked up in piles. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — After the last guests left the Armory on Friday, Community Concepts CEO Shawn Yardley pulled together an informal gathering for staff who had spent the last three months at the temporary emergency shelter.

“I wanted to thank them for stepping up,” he said. “They were pretty emotional.”

The same went for most of the shelter’s guests, he said. Since April 22, the shelter had served 138 people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. By Friday, most of the guests had moved on, but some 20 people remained until the official closure.

“Many said they had never been treated with more kindness than from the staff at the shelter,” Yardley said.

The 60-bed shelter had been hovering at capacity for most of the recent weeks, but stopped new intakes on June 30, and worked to place its existing guests in alternate housing.

According to a Community Concepts news release last week, 42% of guests were connected with new housing. When asked, Yardley said he would have liked to see a higher percentage.

“People did move to other shelters, in many cases with the support of our shelter staff,” he said. “Some chose to return to the street and others did not share their plans with us.”

Staff at the shelter worked to engage guests with services, he said, including on-site intensive case management from the Maine Department of Housing and Human Services. They also worked with the Lewiston Housing Authority and Maine Housing to identify housing options.

While officials said the final costs won’t be available for a few weeks, Yardley believes the operation came in under budget, which he’s hoping can be a “jumping off point” for discussions on a permanent shelter in Lewiston.

“We hope this proves that it can be done,” he said.

Homeless advocates have long said that Lewiston, the second-largest city in Maine, should have its own public shelter.

City Administrator Denis D’Auteuil said Tuesday that he expects the “community conversation around how we best serve our homeless population” to continue now that the shelter is closed.

“I believe that overall, Community Concepts and the staff at the shelter did a good job carrying out the mission to serve our homeless population as the city responded to the initial impacts of COVID-19,” he said. “It’s difficult to predict how those conversations will go, but we will strive to work with all of our existing community shelters and other social services providers to better understand how we best serve our most vulnerable members of our community as we move forward.”

In late March, just after COVID-19 upended the country, homeless advocates outlined how the pandemic puts homeless at even greater risk. And with unemployment still high, more are at risk of being evicted as eviction hearings reopen.

The Armory shelter was funded by MaineHousing, which contracted with Community Concepts to run it.

The biggest expense during the 87-day run was a constant police presence.

Yardley said the Lewiston Police Department was paid $86 an hour for 24 hours per day while the shelter was open, meaning a total cost of roughly $179,500.

Community Concepts also issued figures on who was staying at the shelter.

The average age of shelter guests was 40.5, with the youngest 18 and oldest 74.

The shelter saw 94 men and 44 women, nine veterans, and 23 people who were actively employed.

“It’s not all the stereotype,” Yardley said. “A number of guests had jobs, and would leave the shelter to go to work. They didn’t make enough to afford local rents.”

During the City Council meeting Tuesday, Deputy City Administrator Dale Doughty said the Armory was cleaned and disinfected on Monday.

Facilities manager Louie Turcotte, left, and Deputy City Administrator Dale Doughty look over the covered floor at the Lewiston Armory on Tuesday. The covering protected the hardwood gym floor while the building was being used as a temporary emergency shelter. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


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