Jason Lavoie speaks in support of homeless people Tuesday night at a rally in the parking lot of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center in Lewiston. Lavoie, who was homeless while working as an educational technician, said he is calling on the City Council to put a moratorium on evictions instead of new homeless shelters. The council voted 4-3 Tuesday night in support of a six-month moratorium. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — With a moratorium fight in the rearview mirror, Mayor Carl Sheline is hoping city officials will wait for guidance from the newly formed ad hoc Shelter Committee before moving ahead with new regulations on shelters.

The day after a contentious 4-3 vote approved a six-month moratorium on new shelters in the city, Sheline said he’s “looking forward to the Shelter Committee’s work, creating solutions to solve our homeless challenges, and moving Lewiston forward as a community that cares.”

Sheline announced the new committee in mid-March, as it became clear that a close majority of the council supported a moratorium.

It’s unclear whether the majority of councilors in favor of the moratorium will pursue regulations prior to the committee’s work being completed.

On Wednesday, Sheline said the vote Tuesday “wasn’t a surprise,” and he thanked the large number of residents who spoke during the public meetings.

“Your voices matter: not only because that is what democracy is all about, but because you care and you showed up for your community,” he said. “Let’s show who we really are. We aren’t a community that runs from our problems. We care about our neighbors and we do what it takes.”


According to the initial announcement, the committee will “advise and make recommendations to the City Council on homelessness, shelters, and the range of housing options necessary to reduce homelessness in Lewiston.”

During public comment Tuesday, committee Co-chairman Craig Saddlemire said the group plans to have a final report ready by July 1, and urged councilors to receive the recommendations with an “open mind.”


The City Council approved a 180-day moratorium on new homeless shelters Tuesday, capping weeks of intense debate in response to a proposal for a 24-hour, low-barrier shelter and resource center.

While some officials contend that the six-month ban on new shelters will give the city time to consider new regulations, opponents have argued that the city already has the authority to regulate shelters, and that the moratorium is unnecessarily divisive.

With the council also conducting a second reading Tuesday — a move that was also questioned — the moratorium will go into effect in 30 days, and will be retroactive to March 28. Barring the council striking it down sooner, it would expire Sept. 25.


The contention over a proposed low-barrier shelter became apparent from the City Council’s first workshop on the issue in February, and spiraled into a broader communitywide debate.

The passionate crowd Tuesday, at times interrupting councilors who were clearly in favor of the moratorium, repeated past pleas for officials to find an alternative.

After more than 90 minutes of discussion, the council voted. Robert McCarthy, Rick Lachapelle, Laurier Pease and Lee Clement supported the moratorium, Linda Scott, Scott Harriman and Stephanie Gelinas opposed it.

Mayor Carl Sheline addresses a rally Tuesday night in support of the homeless population in the parking lot of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Like past meetings, the large majority of those speaking Tuesday were opposed to a moratorium. Many questioned the city’s rationale for needing one, including language stating that without one, the city’s existing rules are “inadequate to prevent serious public harm” from new shelters, including “adversely impacting” residents’ quality of living, or the ability of property owners to improve and increase the values of their properties.”

Darby Ray, who serves on the board of directors of the downtown organization Healthy Neighborhoods, said the council has struggled to refine the moratorium language over the past several weeks because it is simply passing the moratorium to block a single project.

“That’s not what moratoriums are meant to do. They’re not meant to stop a single project,” she said. “They’re meant to prevent ‘serious public harm’ and the overburdening of public facilities. The potential development of one low-barrier shelter in our community does not meet those standards.”


Klara Tammany, former director of the Center for Wisdom’s Women, told councilors that the community should be more concerned “about the public harms being done to the homeless.”

“Are these potential ‘public harms’ so threatening and frightening that we must create a moratorium against resources that could help some of the most vulnerable people in our community?” she said.

Three residents of the more than three dozen speaking supported the moratorium, including Planning Board member Tim Gallant, and Steve Bannister, who said time is needed to “make sure a project like this is done right.”

The team behind the proposed 24-bed resource center has argued that the city needs a low-barrier shelter that also offers a range of services to help transition people out of homelessness. The city’s existing private shelters have a range of rules that keep people away, and none are open during the day.

It was clear Tuesday that despite calls for the two sides to work together, a tense relationship remains. When Councilor McCarthy was addressing the audience, a back and forth with a member of the audience took place, after which he said, “Some of the people directly involved are immature at best. Why would we trust them to do it right?”

McCarthy and Pease said they also heard from many constituents who supported a moratorium.


When Pease said there is “not a very large margin” between those in support and in opposition, there was audible laughter from the audience.

Mayor Sheline repeatedly asked the crowd to quiet down.

Pease said he’s concerned looking south to Portland, which is paying to shelter hundreds of people each night.

Before taking a vote, the council amended the language to remove mention of expanding existing shelters, which Lachappelle said he made in response to previous concerns.

One resident who said she filed a Freedom of Access Act request related to General Assistance data, asked Councilor Lachapelle to recuse himself from voting due to his ownership of several rooming houses in the downtown. Lachapelle later said the issue was reviewed by the city attorney and not found to be a conflict of interest.

Former Councilor Luke Jensen, who during his tenure had generally opposed Lewiston paying for a 24-hour shelter, said it’s now “clear that something needs to be done.” He said he didn’t agree with Sheline’s formation of the ad hoc Shelter Committee, calling it “retaliatory,” but said the same could be said for a moratorium.

“What’s going to be learned that we don’t already know?” he said. “It should be obvious that a 24-bed shelter is not going to cause an overburden. It’s just not.”

Jensen added that the council shouldn’t be opposed to the proposed resource center given that it would not be owned and funded by the city. The original proposal called for using $325,000 in federal funds split among Lewiston, Auburn and Androscoggin County, but the team said it is seeking alternative funding sources.

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