LEWISTON — The emergency wellness shelter at the Ramada Hotel will close its doors next week, but a quarantine shelter will continue to operate through the end of the year, officials said Tuesday.

The City Council gave a nod of approval to the plan Tuesday night, as officials from MaineHousing and Preble Street outlined plans to close the 16-bed emergency shelter Sept. 30.

However, funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for non-congregate shelters has been extended through the end of this year, and with COVID-19 still an issue, officials said they saw a need to continue the quarantine and isolation shelter “for all community members who do not have a space to safely isolate or quarantine.”

Use of the the Ramada Hotel for pandemic purposes began with a quarantine shelter run by Community Concepts in 2020. Later in the year, grant funding was secured by MaineHousing that allowed the effort to expand as a “winter wellness shelter,” intended to be a backstop in local efforts to address homelessness during the pandemic.

The Ramada Hotel in Lewiston has been used as an emergency wellness shelter since late 2020. The shelter will continue operating 16 rooms for quarantine purposes, but will close the wellness shelter. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

In April, additional funding through FEMA allowed Portland-based Preble Street to take over shelter operations through September.

On Tuesday, Preble Street spokesman Sam Chamberlain said of the eight remaining shelter guests, three are on track to secure permanent housing. The other five will return to homelessness when the shelter closes next Thursday, he said.

According to a City Council memo from Steven McDermott, strategic planning and outreach coordinator for MaineHousing, Preble Street began its “transition plan” in early August. He said the emergency shelter served a total of 76 people since last year. Clients were provided three meals a day through a partnership with Lewiston Public Schools’ Green Ladle program,

The memo states that, “To the greatest extent possible, shelter staff worked with area social service agencies and housing programs to connect clients with case management, primary health care, treatment services, and permanent housing.”

When asked Tuesday, Chamberlain said a large portion of shelter clients have used case management and housing vouchers to transition from the Ramada, but said “some folks have complicated factors that may play into why accessing a voucher may be more difficult.”

McDermott said the quarantine and isolation shelter has served 158 people since last year, a variety of populations “including families and individuals who needed to quarantine to prevent spread to/from family members, people living in congregate settings, working professionals” including first responders, “and people experiencing homelessness.”

“This resource has been a critical part of Maine’s infrastructure reducing the spread of COVID 19 by providing essential services to those who could not otherwise safely quarantine,” he said in the memo.

Unfortunately, we don’t have information available yet on how many of those folks who moved out went into permanent housing and how many went into other settings.

While the majority of councilors were in favor, two councilors said they were caught off guard with the news that half the shelter would continue through the end of the year.

“I hate surprises,” said Councilor Lee Clement.

Other councilors commended the work of Preble Street, with Councilor Safiya Khalid stating the organization “stepped up in a critical time.”

McDermott said 12 full-time staff will stay on through Dec. 31.


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