LEWISTON — A proposal for a 24-bed homeless shelter and resource center received a lukewarm response from officials this week, but those behind the effort say Maine’s second largest city has ignored the problem for too long.

A team of Lewiston residents who have either worked on the issue or in shelters said that the resource center — at a yet-to-be-named downtown location — would provide a stable presence aimed at transitioning people out of homelessness.

Team members behind a proposed Lewiston Auburn Transitional Resource Center speak to the Lewiston City Council on Tuesday. From left are Kimber Sands, Jamie Caouette, Tonya Sands, Megan Parks and Kevin Boilard.

But councilors on Tuesday questioned the finances of the proposal, and said they were concerned for the long-term impacts of a permanent shelter on area businesses and the prospect of increasing the homeless population.

“All of those things are already happening,” said Kevin Boilard, one of five team members behind the plan. “We’re not bringing this to the neighborhood, this is in our neighborhood.”

Megan Parks, a School Committee member and team member, said the proposed Lewiston Auburn Transitional Resource Center would continue the work that’s been established over the past two years, but in a more appropriate setting that should lead to more success.

The team is asking Lewiston for $325,000 in federal HOME funds, as well as $125,000 from Auburn, and $150,000 from MaineHousing toward the effort. According to the presentation, the team is in negotiations to purchase a property, which is “centrally located in an appropriately zoned area of downtown Lewiston, a short walk from Kennedy Park but away from Lisbon Street and the downtown business district.”


Parks said that because there are shelters nearby, there is already a homeless presence in the area. She said the team has received several letters of support from abutters because “people were relieved we may alleviate some of the burden.” The group said the proposed location has been vacant since at least 2014.

Several councilors doubted the project could get off the ground at under $1 million and questioned the team’s ability to finance itself long-term without local taxpayer dollars.

“I find it virtually impossible this won’t require municipal help,” Councilor Rick Lachapelle said.

Parks responded that it was “ironic” that the project was being criticized for coming to the city with a considerably low financial request.

There is also some confusion about the requirements tied to the federal funds sought by the resource center team.

Asked about the federal funds Tuesday, Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, said he believes the funding would require the 24-bed shelter to also have a separate bathroom for each bed, potentially driving up costs substantially.


Parks said the team would look into the issue, but said it had never come up during several planning discussions with MaineHousing.

The presentation Tuesday marked the first significant proposal for a 24-hour shelter in Lewiston after years of discussions about the need for a low-barrier shelter. The city has four shelters but none provide 24-hour service, and they can turn people away for several reasons, including arriving late, substance use, previous stay bans, lack of identification and religious reasons.

Parks said business owners nearby already complain about people “sleeping in doorways and vomiting in laundromats,” and argued that a 24-hour shelter could help address those issues.

“These things are happening there regardless,” she said. “If nothing is done, they’ll continue to happen.”

Other councilor concerns were tied to the costs associated with a police presence outside shelters. Last year, the temporary shelter at the Lewiston Armory paid for a constant police presence, but once the shelter moved to the Ramada Hotel, the deal ended.

Asked Tuesday, Police Chief David St. Pierre confirmed the department had responded to a number of calls to the Ramada.


However, Parks said once the homeless shelter was closed, police are now responding to calls elsewhere. She said the business community is looking for some kind of positive change after years of no action. Lewiston and Auburn developed and adopted a comprehensive 10-year plan to address homelessness in 2009 that has largely not been implemented.

Councilors said they were sympathetic to the cause and thanked the team for the passionate work they do, but said they also have to represent constituents who are already concerned by the proposal. Others repeated that the issue should be addressed regionally, with Androscoggin County government and Auburn in on discussions.

Councilor Lee Clement, perhaps the most critical of the plan, said the project budget “is unreasonable.” He also said he’s heard from Auburn officials that they may decline involvement.

Clement, whose Ward 6 represents a more rural section of the city, proposed placing some kind of licensing controls on the shelter, and asked Mayor Carl Sheline to take an informal poll of support from councilors. However, Sheline declined.

Parks said Clement’s proposal would likely eliminate the resource center’s goal of providing a low-barrier shelter.

Asked about his exchange with Clement on Tuesday, Sheline said, “I understand that there are questions that needed to be answered, but I’m not interested in criminalizing homelessness.”

“The location of the shelter, who manages the shelter, the size of the shelter, and how it’s funded is up for discussion, but what’s absolutely clear is that we need a shelter,” he said.

In a statement Wednesday, the resource center team said, “We are very disappointed by the council’s dismissive nature of this public health crisis. This issue has been kicked down the road for far too long. We are the second largest city in Maine with the most transient population as we are a service center, and the fact that we do not offer 24-hour homeless services is unacceptable.”

City Administrator Heather Hunter said appropriating the requested HOME funds would require a council vote. Sheline said the issue will likely come before the council for another workshop session.

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