Arthur Murray III, left, Glenn Norraik, hidden under blankets, and Christian Laroche spend an afternoon sheltered by a storefront on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. The three men are homeless and spent the night on the street. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Sitting on a bench at the edge of Kennedy Park, a homeless man named Scott picked at a plastic foam container of food he had just gotten from the Trinity Jubilee Center not far away. The lid was flapping up and down in the wind, so Megan Parks, who had walked by to check on him, latched it shut.

Scott became homeless after his “normal” life unraveled in just a short period of time. He was married, had a job and had a home. He even had a dog. But, a divorce dropped “an atom bomb” on his life, and coupled with health issues, he was on the streets within months.

Now, he said, he replays those moments in his mind — trauma that haunts him every day as he attempts to rebuild some of the normal life he remembers.

“I never would’ve dreamed of where I’m at today 10 years ago,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s not a club I really want to belong to, but here I am and we’ll work with it.”

Scott, who sat in the sun wearing a fleece jacket, hat and gloves, knew Parks from when she managed the emergency shelter at the Lewiston Armory in 2020, where he stayed before securing a housing voucher for an apartment. He lived at the apartment for a little while, but he’s back on the streets now.

Lately he’s been staying at Sheltered by Jesus, a men’s shelter at 100 Pine St., but he’s also stayed at Hope Haven, a 32-bed shelter on Lincoln Street.


Kevin Boilard hands out backpacks filled with items including hand warmers, shampoo and blankets to the homeless in Kennedy Park in Lewiston. Boilard is one of five team members behind the proposed Lewiston Auburn Transitional Resource Center. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Recently, he showed up during a City Council workshop, where Parks and four other Lewiston residents pitched the idea of a low-barrier homeless shelter and resource center that would be open 24 hours — something Lewiston does not have.

The debate over shelters and a subsequent moratorium effort on new shelters has since taken on a life of its own, and it has amplified the issue of homelessness at a time when the problem is more visible here than ever before. People panhandle, set up makeshift encampments and can be found sleeping in city parking garages and doorways.

Because the city’s four small shelters are privately run, the true extent of the problem is difficult to pin down, but there’s a general consensus that the issue has worsened due to the pandemic and housing crisis, along with rising substance use and mental health concerns.

With many believing that Lewiston city officials need to do more, there has been an equal response from the City Council questioning how far the city should go.

The Sun Journal recently spoke to several people behind efforts both local and statewide that look to provide new solutions to a festering, generational problem, including a new initiative that will establish regional hubs to urge more collaboration between services.



For Jimi Cutting, the pandemic made it pretty clear that the city needed to expand its services to the homeless.

Cutting, the house manager at St. Martin de Porres Residence in Lewiston, which can sleep a maximum of 10 people, said one of the “lessons learned” over the last two years is that Lewiston needs a shelter that is open during the day.

Due to COVID-19, St. Martin de Porres has been limited lately to just six beds. Cutting said that means a total of roughly 70 beds are available among the city’s four shelters. But, first thing in the morning, the people lucky enough to get into the shelters are turned onto the streets.

“With common places such as the library, Trinity (Jubilee Center) and other facilities closed or limited (in capacity), people are left outside to fend for themselves,” he said. “Pandemic or not, winters get very cold here.”

Glenn Norraik spends an afternoon sheltered by a storefront on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. Norraik is homeless. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Cutting was homeless in Lewiston for a few months in the winter of 2013, and said, “not a whole lot has changed in the nine years since then.”

The four existing shelters, while vital for many people, carry restrictions that can turn people away for reasons like arriving late, substance use, previous stay bans, lack of identification and religious reasons.


Cutting said a low-barrier shelter, like the one proposed by Parks’ group, will “help those who for one reason or another cannot or will not go to the existing shelters.”

Shaad Masood, a registered nurse and president of the Raise-Op Housing Cooperative in Lewiston, told councilors on Tuesday that the current “low-barrier” options in Lewiston are “jail, the emergency room, or a tent.”

Parks said the biggest goal behind the proposal is to offer a “one-stop shop” where people can access multiple services — ones that are now spread across the city, like case management, substance use and mental health counseling, financial management, and more.

“Even if you’re staying at a shelter, you’re on the street first thing in the morning,” she said, adding that people are on foot, and most don’t have phones. “Our resources are so siloed, and while collaboration is getting better between agencies, people can’t get better if they can’t access the resources.”

Despite city officials now drafting moratorium language that could possibly put off a new shelter for up to six months, Parks said her team is moving ahead. She said a moratorium on shelters wouldn’t prevent them from beginning to offer the other services that are needed. Now, the group just needs to secure a physical location. The negotiations are ongoing, she said, but after the council reaction, the team has also pursued private investors.

Kevin Boilard, also a member of the resource center team, said last week that the current system is simply too difficult for many people to navigate, especially someone suffering from mental health or substance issues.


In order to access shelters or services, people are often turned away for not having the proper identification, or they might be asked for two forms of ID. People spend days just bouncing between services, or waiting on hold or in lines.

“To really solve the problem, everything needs to be together in one,” he said. “It’s not something that just happens overnight. These people are literally in survival mode every day. It really is a culture change.”

He said that means, even if housing is found — which is near impossible these days — “you still need to make sure substance or mental health issues are being addressed,” along with financial management. He said some who rely on disability payments “turn to impulsive actions” at the beginning of the month having “lived so long without that structure.”


Lewiston-Auburn is not the only region dealing with the crisis. Southern Maine, particularly the Portland area, has had its own homelessness emergency tied to a lack of housing. Hundreds of people have been put up in area hotels, an arrangement that has resulted in its own controversy.

As the crisis has unfolded over the last two years, state officials at MaineHousing and the Statewide Homeless Council have been working behind the scenes on a complete redesign of Maine’s homelessness response system.


In mid-February, MaineHousing announced an initiative that would create nine “service hubs” throughout the state. Each of the nine hubs, including an Androscoggin County hub based in Lewiston, would hire a coordinator.

According to MaineHousing, which was created by the Legislature in 1969 to address state housing concerns, the coordinator will act as a “command center” on homelessness, putting together a “cross-agency collaborative team” and working to acquire better data and performance metrics that are specific to the area.

Tiffany Nadeau spends time with friends Wednesday in Moulton Park in Auburn. Nadeau said she spends most nights in a different place than she did the night before. She will often stay with friends. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Liz Cotter Schlax, president of the United Way of Southern Maine, which will operate the southern Maine hub, said the new model “will lead to greater coordination, collaboration, and equitable alignment of local resources that address the complex needs of those experiencing homelessness.”

The system is based on a national model called Built for Zero, which now includes 90 communities working to reach “functional zero, a measurable end state where homelessness is rare and brief.”

In Lewiston, the hub will be run by Lewiston Housing, which is the city’s housing authority. Its executive director, Chris Kilmurry, said the organization is hoping to hire its coordinator within the next week or two.

Kilmurry said the coordinator will be focused on connecting with and coordinating service providers across the county to “help make sure everyone is working together efficiently and effectively to best serve our community’s needs.”


“It sounds fairly simple, but the reality is this is complex work, and our hope is that this single point of contact will help streamline processes and create a greater amount of collaboration around successes and best practices.”

Scott Thistle, communications director for MaineHousing, said once the hub teams are convened, the “primary initial task is to work toward improving data collection to assess the actual need in each hub.”

Several people told the Sun Journal that one of the biggest barriers for those working on the issue is acquiring accurate data.

The state’s HMIS system, which collects client-level data and data on the provision of housing and services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness, has been hampered by the pandemic. Normally, the annual homelessness “Point-in-Time” count contributes data to the system, but the count didn’t take place for two years. There are also several factors that make the annual wintertime count inaccurate and likely underrepresented.

In Lewiston, data is hard to come by because the privately run shelters, which don’t receive public funding, don’t plug data into the statewide system. Thistle said only New Beginnings enters data into the system, providing information on youth homelessness. (Right now, there are 193 homeless youth in Lewiston.)

The city’s two emergency shelters, which are now closed, also sent data to the system.


Maine’s Point-In-Time count was conducted in January 2022, but the data is not yet available.


This past week, during the boisterous Lewiston City Council debate over a possible moratorium, Denise Pettengill stepped to the podium to offer her thoughts. Pettengill runs a local chapter of a national nonprofit called Newborns in Need, which seeks to help babies born sick or in poverty.

In May of last year, she attempted to help a mother, who after being discharged from the hospital, was going “home” to a tent with her newborn daughter. Pettengill said she likely lied to the hospital to avoid losing her children.

“None of us are above the poor and the homeless,” she told the council, arguing that a moratorium sends the wrong message.

In Lewiston, officials have spent years grappling with how to better address homelessness but ultimately have not moved forward on any significant initiatives.


The city provides Community Development Block Grant funding to several nonprofits directly involved with homelessness, including Trinity and New Beginnings, but does not provide any direct funding to the four existing private shelters.

In Portland, the city has spent $3.3 million for its Oxford Street shelter through the first seven-and-a-half months of the fiscal year. It spent $4.1 million in all of the previous fiscal year.

Lewiston City Administrator Heather Hunter said the city does not track expenses based on funding homeless services specifically, but said some funds, like General Assistance and police department costs related to its crisis workers, “could fall under mental health, substance use, unhoused, or all of the above.”

People crowd into the Lewiston City Council meeting Tuesday at City Hall to weigh in on a proposed moratorium on homeless shelters in the city. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

When asked if there had been recent discussions among staff or elected officials on homelessness, she said the prior council held discussions from “a regional standpoint,” and said “given the transition, other staff turnover, and budget preparation, the team hasn’t spent a lot of time thus far on the subject other than noting housing at all levels (from those unsheltered to higher-end options) was a strategic initiative discussed at the council’s (recent) planning session.”

On Friday, Mayor Carl Sheline, who has been adamantly opposed to a moratorium on shelters, announced the formation of an ad hoc committee on homelessness.

He said the city needs to “get past attacks and accusations and have a constructive community conversation.”


Several current and former councilors believe that Lewiston has done more than its share in the region to combat the problem. Councilor Rick Lachapelle on Tuesday said Lewiston has four shelters, and questioned how many there were in Auburn, Topsham or Brunswick.

Some rebutted that, as the second-largest city in Maine, Lewiston is a service center.

Council President Lee Clement, who has been one of the most critical of the shelter plan, said he and the other councilors in favor of a moratorium have been “vilified” for simply asking necessary questions. He said a moratorium, if passed, would be a temporary measure that “could be accurately described as a ‘time out’ of limited duration, which would allow us to review and research an issue that no council member denies exists.”

“We need to inspect this issue from multiple angles, determine if oversight of any kind is needed, and if so, draft appropriate mechanisms to address valid concerns,” he said.

Many people, including Councilor Linda Scott, have said city officials and community members could accomplish that work without a moratorium.

In response to concerns about a low-barrier shelter attracting people from outside Lewiston, some of which were voiced Tuesday, Parks pointed to HMIS data. Of the 139 people served by the Armory shelter, 111 had a last permanent residence of either Lewiston or Auburn. At the Ramada shelter, 61 of its 74 guests were from Lewiston or Auburn.


The Auburn City Council has not yet held a discussion on the resource center plan, but Parks said her team was scheduled to meet with city staff.

Despite the drama of the last few weeks, some admittedly of his own making, Boilard is happy that the shelter debate has finally sparked meaningful community discussions on the issue.

On Tuesday, he offered a quick apology after some councilors said they had been “attacked” by resource team members on social media, including on the community Facebook page “Lewiston Rocks.”

Councilor Robert McCarthy said Tuesday he was “shocked by some of the comments” and “accusations” he saw.

“You’d think people who want the support of the council wouldn’t deride the council,” he said.

Parks said this week “inappropriate comments” have been made by both sides, but that her team is willing to sit down and respond to councilor concerns without the need for a moratorium.


“We’re very passionate about the work that we do, and the culture that we operate in while providing these services is not prim and proper, and nice and rosy,” she said. “Sometimes things get a little heated and I think that’s just passion overflowing.”


Last week, Trinity Executive Director Erin Reed stood outside the organization’s courtyard after its daily soup kitchen service. She wore a heavy jacket and overalls because the center has been serving meals outdoors due to high demand. They simply don’t have enough space inside, with only capacity for about 12 people to come in and warm up during the day.

Reed said that each year she’s been at the helm there, it has become “harder and harder” to get people into housing. People use their phones to make call after call for apartments and job applications. During the pandemic, she started seeing more families and children taking advantage of the pantry. The youngest person she saw this winter was 4, who came in with her mother.

Because of the capacity issues, sometimes they have to ask people to cycle in and out. She said “people jumped up as quick as I’ve ever seen them” to offer their seats to the mother and young daughter.

Erin Reed is the executive director of Trinity Jubilee Center. The center’s soup kitchen serves about 100 meals a day, six days a week. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Now, increases and rent and fuel costs have them even more worried.


Parks said there are simply more people who “can’t make ends meet,” who are teetering on the edge.

She said the emergency rental assistance program has been helpful, both in helping to avoid some evictions and also in placing some homeless in housing, but said “sometimes it just doesn’t work.” That’s been especially true during the housing crisis.

When the Ramada shelter ended at the end of September, it took away 28 beds.

Parks said they submitted a lot of applications for the emergency rental assistance program, and were able to place roughly 10 people who had acquired vouchers into a local motel. One person they worked with had acquired a voucher in September, but did not locate an apartment until now, six months later.

Kilmurry said demand for subsidized Section 8 housing vouchers is also high, and that Lewiston Housing typically has between 120 and 140 people with vouchers who “can’t find an apartment to apply it to.”

Megan Parks gives Chase Bates a hug recently at the Trinity Jubilee Center in Lewiston. Bates has been in and out of homelessness, but currently has an apartment through MaineHousing. Parks is one of five team members behind the proposed Lewiston Auburn Transitional Resource Center, a 24-hour homeless shelter the team is hoping to locate in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Calvin Dube, a former director of the Trinity Jubilee Center, is retired now but he still keeps tabs on some homeless people he knows around town. He said he recently talked to a homeless man he’s known for awhile who couldn’t get into a local shelter because he didn’t have the proper identification.


He was staying in a local parking garage and ended up in the emergency room after his extremities turned blue, Dube said. He stayed the night in the hospital lobby.

Dube said he eventually secured housing through General Assistance.

“The city has addressed homelessness to a degree, but it’s still not a big priority,” he said, adding that even something as simple as showers — which the city has previously discussed — are hard to come by for a lot of people.

Arthur Murray III spends an afternoon sheltered by a storefront on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. Murray is homeless. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The most “heart wrenching,” he said, has been seeing more children and families in need of the services.

Scott, the homeless man spending his midday hours in Kennedy Park, said the city simply needs to decide what its priorities are.

“In a country this rich, we shouldn’t have any homeless people,” he said.


Sitting on the park bench, Scott said he still felt gratitude for where he was. He was warm for the moment and had food sitting next to him. He had just passed off a packet of hand warmers and an extra sweatshirt to someone he knew who was “worse off.”

“It’s kind of dizzying to think about where I’ll be tomorrow, but I’m better off than a lot of people,” he said. “You look at people in the Ukraine, and everything they had. I have to keep that perspective. It could be worse.”

He’s got some job applications in, but hasn’t heard anything yet.

“I’ll be back,” he said.

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