Lewiston residents wait to comment Tuesday during a Lewiston City Council discussion about a possible homeless shelter in downtown. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — After two hours of debate that featured several attempts to amend or halt the proposal, the City Council moved forward with a moratorium on homeless shelters, setting a hearing for April 19.

The council will conduct first and second readings that night, and if approved, the moratorium would go into effect 30 days later, and would remain in effect for 180 days retroactive from March 28.

Despite calls from some councilors and the public to forego a divisive moratorium and instead hold in-depth discussions on shelters, Councilors Robert McCarthy, Rick Lachapelle, Laurier Pease and Lee Clement supported forwarding the moratorium.

The lengthy discussion Tuesday became mired in confusion over the proposed moratorium language, which would place a 180-day ban on any new, low-barrier shelter in Lewiston.

The proposed moratorium language says the city would use the time during a moratorium to review existing regulations regarding shelters, and depicts a 24-bed shelter as having the potential to “overburden public safety and other public facilities,” which was disputed Tuesday.

The language says the city “intends to undertake a planning process that incorporates the lessons of the two temporary shelters,” including consideration of where such facilities should be located, as well as a “review and possible amendment of the city’s existing regulations governing shelters.”


The city would also likely consider “whether shelters should be required to apply for and hold a local license and, if so, what the licensing criteria should be,” something that the team behind the shelter proposal had initially opposed due to its goals of creating a low-barrier shelter.

Opponents have argued that the proper regulations are already in place — including a Planning Board process that would vet any proposal — and that the city could conduct a review of its policies without the need for a moratorium. The council also has the authority to allocate the federal funds sought by the group.

Lewiston City Councilors Linda Scott and Robert McCarthy discuss a possible homeless shelter Tuesday evening at City Hall. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Those behind the shelter and resource center plan say Lewiston has largely ignored its festering homelessness issue, and that the community needs a 24-hour, low-barrier shelter that offers resources like case management, substance use and mental health counseling, and financial management.

The city’s four shelters are not considered low-barrier due to carrying restrictions that can turn people away for reasons like arriving late, substance use, previous stay bans, lack of identification and religious reasons.

Councilors in favor of the moratorium have expressed concerns with the low-barrier concept, and have pointed to police activity at the former shelters at the Lewiston Armory at 65 Central Ave. and Ramada Hotel and Conference Center at 490 Pleasant St. as examples for why a moratorium is needed.

After hearing concerns regarding possible unintended consequences that could impact Lewiston’s existing shelters or emergency response efforts, McCarthy made a motion to amend the proposed language to stipulate the moratorium would only impact “new, low-barrier shelters.” The initial draft language also included a temporary ban on expanding existing shelters within the city.


However, several people pointed out that there is no clear definition for “low-barrier,” and those behind the resource center effort said the moratorium as proposed would not stop them from opening a “no-barrier” or barrier-free shelter.

Several amendments were made or rescinded, prompting confusion among officials and the public. At one point, Mayor Carl Sheline said,  “I feel like we need a graph or flowchart up here.”

Councilor Linda Scott, who is opposed to the moratorium, said if the council needs to make “amendment after amendment,” perhaps the city shouldn’t have a moratorium, and should instead delegate the issue to Sheline’s newly established ad hoc committee on homelessness.

Separate motions to postpone the issue indefinitely, and to refer the issue to the ad hoc committee failed 4-3.

Darby Ray of Lewiston attends Tuesday’s Lewiston City Council discussion about a possible homeless shelter in downtown Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Scott said if the council uses the full 180 days, the moratorium expires in September,  just in time to head into “another winter with people living in the woods, with fire pits with children.”

“We’re smart enough, we have enough things in place without having to put in a moratorium,” she said.


In response to the suggestion that the ad hoc committee take over the issue, Councilor Lachapelle said he wants time to work on the issue, which is why he supports a moratorium.

“I am in favor of a shelter. I would support it in the proper manner. I don’t care if some people don’t believe me,” he said.

McCarthy made similar comments, stating, “We will look forward for what the committee will come up with. Moratorium or not, that work can be done.” He added that once the council receives a report back from the committee, “if it answers all the questions we have, we lift (the moratorium).”

Many opposed said a moratorium is needlessly divisive, and wastes time and effort on legal language “rather than working on the real issue.”

Megan Parks, one of five team members behind the proposed shelter and resource center, said the city’s framing of the moratorium language is overtly negative, built around police calls for service at the shelters she managed for the city during the pandemic.

The draft language includes mention that police “received a number of complaints from area residents that alleged a variety of offenses related to the shelters, including public drinking, trespass, public indecency, drug use, intoxication and theft of packages.”


Parks said many police calls were related to untreated mental health issues or medical problems, and that only 10 of 89 calls to the Ramada required police action. She said that level of calls over 11 months is low compared to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Jason Lavoie speaks at a Lewiston City Council meeting Tuesday in favor of having a homeless shelter in downtown Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

She said the moratorium language lists the “health and safety of the community” as justification, but said, “Where is the concern for the public harm without such a program?”

Amy Smith, a downtown landlord who is serving as co-chairwoman of Sheline’s ad hoc committee, said the moratorium is “a direct overreaction” to shelters that were operating during a public health emergency. She also argued that police data used to justify the moratorium is incomplete, and should also consider police activity in the rest of the city during those times.

Billie-Jayne Cooke, co-owner of the Agora Grand on Bates Street, said the council has “already wasted a month rather than working on the real problem.”

“Is this what you want to waste your time on?” she asked. “The real problem is preventing investment, tourism and positive growth in Lewiston.”

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