LEWISTON — After months of debate over a proposed 24-hour shelter and resource center, city officials will decide Tuesday on the fate of a controversial moratorium on new homeless shelters.

With the council conducting both required readings Tuesday, if approved, the moratorium would go into effect 30 days later, and would remain in effect for 180 days retroactive from March 28. It would expire in late September.

The proposed halt on new shelters came after officials were presented with a plan for a low-barrier, 24-hour resource center and shelter in February, which has since sparked weeks of communitywide conversations on the issue of homelessness in Lewiston.

Previous public meetings on the issue, including on April 5 when the council voted 4-3 to forward the moratorium to a hearing, have featured lengthy public comment sessions, with the majority of residents voicing opposition to a moratorium.

Attendees pack into the Lewiston City Council meeting March 15 at City Hall to weigh in on a proposed moratorium on homeless shelters in the city. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The councilors in favor of the moratorium — Robert McCarthy, Rick Lachapelle, Laurier Pease and Lee Clement — have argued that time is needed for the city to consider licensing and other regulations for shelters, but opponents have repeatedly argued that Lewiston already has the proper mechanisms in place.

The moratorium language says the city would use the six-month pause 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 opponents have disputed.


On the eve of the council vote, there are still questions among some officials over the moratorium language.

On April 5, the council spent a lengthy part of the meeting suggesting amendments to the language, which had come under criticism from opponents due to unclear definitions and potential impacts to  the city’s existing shelters.

Those behind the resource center effort said because the moratorium language was specific to low-barrier shelters, it would not stop them from opening a “no-barrier” or barrier-free shelter. While the council conducted a vote that night on the language as written, it appears differently on this week’s agenda, with the moratorium now specific to “new, no or low barrier homeless shelters.”

The final language states, “No person or organization shall develop, construct or operate a new, no or low barrier shelter or expand an existing shelter within the city for which a development review approval for a conditional use has not been determined to be complete by vote of the Planning Board prior to March 28, 2022, without complying with whatever ordinance amendment or amendments the city may enact as a result of this moratorium.”

Mayor Carl Sheline said Monday that it’s been “evident” from the back and forth on April 5 and now the updated language in the council agenda, that the “proposed language for the moratorium has been problematic from the beginning.”

“At this point, I don’t even know what the final language will look like on Tuesday night,” he said. “It should be pretty clear to everyone by now that this moratorium idea is rushed and half-baked. I really wish the council would support the work of the shelter committee, instead of continuing to waste time on this misguided effort.”


Sheline previously announced an ad hoc committee on homelessness, but when faced with suggestions that the issue be handled at the committee level, several councilors said they wanted to work on the issue during a moratorium.

Those behind the shelter and resource center plan say Lewiston 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 such as 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.

A memo from Lewiston Public Library officials included in Tuesday’s agenda states that the library strives to be an accessible resource for people in poverty or experiencing homelessness, but said the library at times faces difficulties in managing customers who may be struggling with mental illness, substance addiction, domestic violence or other issues.

Because none of the shelters are open during the day, many look to the library for warmth and access to resources.

The memo states there are “times when the needs of library users go far beyond the scope of library staff training,” including the need to respond to “acute mental health or substance abuse crises.”

“Library staff are trained to call for emergency assistance, but are not equipped to fully deescalate the severity of some of these issues until first responders arrive,” the memo said. “Housing status is usually unknown in these situations; what is clear is that there are unmet needs that fall to library staff to address simply because those needing help are in our building in the absence of other resources.”

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