LEWISTON — New regulations on homeless shelters will go into effect next month after the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday on a new ordinance — a vote that came after months of contentious debate among elected officials.

The rules will stipulate where a shelter can operate as well as licensing requirements that new shelters must follow. It also caps the total number of shelter beds in the city at 120, not including homeless shelters that “primarily serve homeless families, youth or children.”

According to the ad hoc shelter committee, which helped draft the new language, there are currently 83 shelter beds in Lewiston.

Officials have been sparring over the city’s response as the unhoused population has grown more visible both downtown and in new encampments, but said the vote Tuesday showed a “spirit of compromise” to address the issue.

The ordinance has been in the works since this spring, when the council passed a controversial six-month moratorium on new shelters after a group of local advocates pitched a 24-hour shelter and resource center.

While the vote was unanimous, the council spent a long portion of Tuesday’s meeting debating final amendments to the ordinance, including on required buffers between shelters and schools and daycares, and language that is meant to encourage homeless youth to enroll in educational programs.


After amendments to the ordinance, shelters will be required to maintain a 250-foot buffer — down from 500 feet — from existing schools and daycares, and existing shelters will have to participate in the state’s coordinated entry system within five years.

The ordinance will go into effect Oct. 21. The moratorium, which had recently been extended by the council, will lapse the same day.

On Wednesday, Mayor Carl Sheline issued a statement on the new ordinance, saying he was “pleased” that the council, shelter committee and community “were able to come together to create workable solutions that will better address homelessness in Lewiston.”

“While the moratorium that preceded this work was unnecessary to create these ordinance changes, the changes have made our community’s existing shelters and any future shelter in Lewiston more accessible to some of our unhoused neighbors,” he said. “I am especially pleased that the council ultimately decided to avoid requirements that would have added needless, bureaucratic burdens on Lewiston’s current and future shelter providers and those they serve.”

Prior to the vote Tuesday, the council amended the ordinance in response to recommendations from Chris Bicknell, executive director of New Beginnings, a Lewiston organization that serves homeless youth. Bicknell said proposed language that would have required youth to enroll in an educational program within 30 days of entry in a shelter would’ve been a major barrier for getting kids needed shelter.

He said his organization already follows state licensing requirements that guide homeless youth to various educational programs but that many are not able to enroll or physically attend school due to trauma and other factors. He said the average length of stay at the New Beginnings shelter is 16 days.


“To require people to enroll in school in that short of time doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.

Several councilors didn’t agree on the required buffers, including Councilor Scott Harriman who repeatedly asked councilors in favor of buffers to explain why they are needed. No such reason was given, but Councilor Rick Lachapelle said he was trying to “balance the needs of the entire community,” and previously said the buffers were in response to neighborhood concerns stemming from the Lewiston Armory emergency shelter.

Harriman argued that when taking the buffers into account, the available area for potential shelters is less than the current conditions. The shelter committee also recommended against buffers and that more zones be opened up for shelters.

“The recommendation from the shelter committee was to increase the available area in order to avoid concentrating shelters in one area,” Harriman said.

“We’re trying to find compromise here so we can pass this as soon as possible and end this moratorium,” said Councilor Linda Scott, adding that buffers will deter a shelter from operating near a school but not someone sleeping in a tent near one, which is happening now, she said.

The council ultimately voted 5-2 to settle on the 250-foot buffers, with Harriman and Mayor Carl Sheline opposed. Councilor Bob McCarthy was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.


A list of exemptions for existing shelters was also debated, with Councilor Stephanie Gelinas arguing that the city’s four shelters should be required to participate in what’s known as the coordinated entry system, a Maine Housing system that connects shelters with state resources, along with also shifting to a 24-hour operation within a number of years.

The council ultimately only supported removing coordinated entry from the list of exemptions, but Gelinas said she hears “over and over, look at all the people on the streets during the day.”

“If we’re going to do this, I want to do it well,” she said.

During public comment, one speaker who said they volunteer in Lewiston and offer rides to unhoused individuals, said he doesn’t believe the new ordinance will help.

“I can’t imagine anyone doing it in Lewiston with all the regulations and exemptions,” he said, referring to new shelters.

But, he also said, based on his experience, “people need a hand up not a hand out.”

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