Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline announces to the media and others Friday afternoon in the City Council Chambers in City Hall the formation of an ad hoc committee to address homelessness. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Mayor Carl Sheline on Friday announced the creation of an ad hoc committee to “provide clear best-practice solutions that will reduce homelessness in Lewiston and get people and families the housing and services they need to thrive.” 

The announcement came days after the City Council moved forward with a proposed moratorium on homeless shelters. That earlier move presents the possibility of a six-month pause aimed at a shelter project previously brought forward by a group of residents. 

In his brief remarks to the media, Sheline said he was disappointed that the council had voted — albeit by a narrow 4-3 margin — in favor of a moratorium. 

“That vote is not who we are as a city,” he said. “In Lewiston, we don’t hide from our problems, we face them head on. 

“People experiencing homelessness are not our enemy,” the mayor continued. “We can’t act like homelessness isn’t an issue here. We can’t act like we have the services we need. Not when families are sleeping outside. Not when our veterans are carrying all they own on their backs. Not when kids are sleeping in cars and then are expected to learn at school the next day. We don’t have the time and resources to waste on useless measures that won’t get us any further toward solving the problems we face. We need to act now.” 

Saying the city needs to rise above “toxic rhetoric,” Sheline said the newly formed committee will advise and make recommendations to the City Council on matters of homelessness and housing issues. 

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“The committee will work together to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the true extent of the homelessness issue here in Lewiston,” he said. “The committee will look at the current range of services, shelters and housing options available to individuals experiencing homelessness in Lewiston.” 

Craig Saddlemire, coordinator of the nonprofit housing cooperative Raise-Op, was named co-chairman of the ad hoc committee. He said Lewiston’s efforts to ease homelessness have been vexed by lack of resources “and in some cases, lack of political will.” 

He did, however, commend the many agencies in the community that are already dedicated to supporting people who find themselves homeless. 

“My intention with this committee is to build upon the work that’s been done,” Saddlemire said, “not to reinvent or wipe the slate clean because we’re standing on, really, decades of effort. It’s unfortunate that we haven’t addressed this problem more thoroughly.” 

Amy Smith, president of Healthy Homeworks, consultant for Healthy Neighborhoods and a downtown Lewiston homeowner, was also named as co-chairwoman of the committee. 

“Our team will actively seek out and listen closely to experts who have direct experience, and stakeholders on all sides of the issue,” she said. “We will research best practices, analyze data from other efforts around the world, and we promise to operate with the utmost respect. And we will be thorough, open-minded and completely transparent as we strive to create practical, actionable and timely recommendations.” 

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Scott Harriman, the only city councilor on the committee, voted against the shelter moratorium Tuesday.

“Not only does such a move send the wrong message to all members of our community,” Harriman said, “it needlessly delays any solution to the problem.” 

The idea of a moratorium, which can pause the proposed shelter project up to 180 days after enacted, was brought forward after the council was presented with a proposal for a low-barrier, 24-bed transitional resource center.  

The idea — and the subsequent vote for a moratorium — have been the subject of passionate debate. 

Megan Parks, who led the effort to develop the proposed resource center at the center of the controversy, sent out a statement after the mayor’s ad hoc committee was announced. 

“The proposed Lewiston Area Transitional Resource Center team is grateful for the mayor’s announcement this afternoon,” she wrote. ” We have confidence in the membership that has been convened to evaluate how to best address the public health crisis of homelessness in our community. Our team will continue to be available to share the research, data, and personal and professional experiences we have with the ad hoc committee members, should they request.”

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