LEWISTON — An ordinance that would have required the city to provide emergency shelter within 48 hours of a request was rejected Tuesday after officials said the proposal, while well-intentioned, would undermine efforts to address homelessness in Lewiston.

While the proposal was meant as a backstop to ensure housing for those in need, officials said it would put Lewiston at too much financial risk at a time when the city’s shelters and hotels are consistently at capacity, leaving the city unable to guarantee the availability of emergency housing.

Under the proposed ordinance, the city would have an obligation to provide any resident emergency shelter, located within the borders of the city, within 48 hours of their filing a petition for it. The city would be allowed to impose a fee on those sheltered, but could not deny shelter due to nonpayment of shelter fees.

During a workshop session Tuesday, City Administrator Heather Hunter said that after the fallout of the recent Blake Street fire on Sept. 11, in which 18 families became homeless, “we learned very well that we cannot control the vacancy rates” in Lewiston. Many people had to be placed in Auburn and other surrounding communities.

Hunter said the proposed ordinance would tie the city’s hands.

“Requiring that those in need of shelter be housed in Lewiston, as opposed to having a place to sleep seems to be against the reasons the ordinance was proposed in the first place,” she said.

Councilor Safiya Khalid, who brought the language forward, said the “right to housing” ordinance would help address homelessness at a time when Lewiston is struggling to adequately do so.

“If Lewiston’s existing programs and policies are sufficient, then why do we have people sleeping on streets, in tents and parks?” she asked, adding that the evidence shows that the current programs are “woefully insufficient.”

She said if passed, the ordinance would push the city to develop a long-debated, low-barrier shelter and called the ordinance “a simple question of values.”

The Lewiston proposal mirrors similar initiatives across the country, most of which have proven controversial. New York City has a year-round “right to shelter” law, but similar proposals in California have been either vetoed by the governor or are, in the case of Sacramento, still under the microscope.

Elaine Brackett, director of social services, said in a memo that the proposal “would have a detrimental fiscal impact” on Lewiston taxpayers. She’s also concerned that the language would conflict with General Assistance eligibility standards, resulting in the loss of the 70% reimbursement Lewiston receives from the state.

On Tuesday, she said the ordinance would require, “access to housing with no eligibility criteria and no accountability for self-sufficiency.”

Megan Parks, a School Committee member who has worked closely on efforts to address homelessness in Lewiston, submitted a letter to the council regarding the proposal, which was read by Councilor Lee Clement.

Parks said that while well-intentioned, the ordinance, “falls short and could actually prove detrimental.” She said all four shelters in Lewiston are at capacity and the hotels and motels that offer some emergency assistance in Lewiston and Auburn are also full.

“If this were in place, how would an unhoused individual approach the city today?” she asked, adding that the ordinance as written would, “not actually result in any benefit to unhoused people and could very likely end up costing the city and wasting valuable resources.”

The only councilor to back Khalid’s proposal was Caleb Roebuck, who suggested moving it forward in an effort to make revisions and give the incoming City Council a “potential starting point to build on.”

Mayor Mark Cayer said he believes Lewiston has, “done more work on the issue of homelessness over the last two years than we’ve ever done in Lewiston,” and that the city must do its part, but it needs to be a regional effort.

Councilor Clement said his biggest concern was opening the city to lawsuits, which according to Hunter, would be paid for by taxpayers.

Councilor Stephanie Gelinas said while the city has “a whole lot more to do” regarding homelessness, “I don’t think the way it’s written would really be valuable.”

Referring to a comment from Khalid, she said, “This is not choosing money over dignity. It’s not that simple.” But, she said, she expects the topic to come forward again during the next term and that Lewiston “needs to do better.”

The proposal was one of two from Khalid that the council failed to move forward Tuesday, after it also rejected a controversial ordinance that would have prohibited local police from inquiring into the immigration status of any person.

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