LEWISTON — City officials are getting closer to implementing new regulations on homeless shelters but city councilors remain far apart on a few issues.

The proposed shelter ordinance was drafted by city staff working in tandem with an ad hoc shelter committee, which produced a report on the extent of the homelessness issue in Lewiston, along with recommendations on new shelter regulations.

During a workshop Tuesday, the City Council went through each section of the proposed ordinance, with administration taking an informal poll on councilors’ preferences on several topics. That included where new shelters should be allowed, how they should be approved, and whether there should be a cap on shelter beds.

While the committee recommended against a cap, several councilors supported capping the total number of shelter beds at 134. There are 83 shelter beds in operation in Lewiston.

The number was based on figures from the committee’s final report, which recommends “promoting the overall development of at least 51 to 119 more shelter beds to meet the need of Lewiston residents, and another 30 to 40 shelter beds to meet the need of Androscoggin County.”

The large range from the committee was based on using two different methods to estimate the overall need: the local shelter rejection rate, based on capacity, and the annual “point in time” count, which estimates the number of homeless individuals in the community.


According to the report, the committee adjusted those numbers in proportion to the rate of homeless individuals with Lewiston as a last known address, which produced a range of 51 to 119 additional shelter beds, for a total of 134 to 202 shelter beds needed to serve Lewiston residents.

Craig Saddlemire, co-chairman of the committee, said the lower number in the range only reflects people who have been turned away from existing shelters due to capacity, and not for other impediments to access like substance use.

Councilor Rick Lachapelle first proposed a cap of 120, stating, “I do not want to see Lewiston become the homeless shelter of the state of Maine.”

“We can always come back and ask for more, if we see the need is there,” Councilor Larry Pease said. “We need to start with something.”

The shelter committee recommended against a cap, stating there’s “little evidence that a surge of shelters will be developed in the absence of a cap. Any cap should be based upon the level of need, and should not be less.”

Saddlemire said that even with 134 beds, “we’re talking about not meeting the need,” calling it a “very conservative number.”


Councilor Bob McCarthy said he’d be in favor of the 134 cap, stating, “I’m a conservative.”

Other councilors agreed with the committee. Councilor Linda Scott said that given the difficulty of opening a new shelter, the city will be lucky to get 20 new beds.

Ron Potvin, a former School Committee member who works with the district’s Store Next Door, which serves homeless students, spoke against the proposed cap. He said the store serves some 250 homeless youth.

“Let’s be realistic about the need out there,” he said.

The debate came as officials work toward implementing a new ordinance prior to the expiration of a six-month moratorium on new shelters in late September.

Other parts of the ordinance could have implications for the city’s four existing shelters. One such provision would require all city shelters to provide 24-hour access, something that homeless advocates say has been contributing to the visibility of homelessness during the day.


Another would require the shelters to join what’s known as coordinated entry, a Maine Housing system that connects shelters with state resources. Both provisions would provide a five-year grace period for existing shelters.

Several councilors disagreed, and said they’d support a permanent exemption for existing shelters.

David Hediger, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, said the 24-hour component could be as simple as the shelter having a room or warming area that could be accessed at all times, with the rest of the shelter closed off.

The shelter committee’s final report also urged the city to pursue avenues for more affordable housing, which is the number one reason for homelessness.

“We want to emphasize that the creation of more affordable housing and permanent supportive housing can help reduce the rate at which people become homeless and the length of time they remain homeless, therefore reduce the number of required shelter beds,” it states.

The council did not finish its workshop discussion Tuesday and added an additional workshop session for Tuesday, Aug. 23, to discuss the shelter ordinance.

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