Brian Kent Fleming, right, chats Thursday with John Ryan on the steps of Trinity Episcopal Church in Lewiston about the possibility of a city-run homeless “community.” Fleming, who has been homeless for 10 years “by choice,” came to Maine from California. “In San Diego, you could not walk 5 feet from your belongings, as a homeless person, without everything getting stolen.” He feels like lockers or a place to live would help his situation. “If you live somewhere you have a better chance of holding on to your stuff,” Fleming said. Ryan said he would use a sheltered community but doubts it will ever come about. “They’ve proposed other stuff and never followed through with it,” he said. Ryan lived in a tent last winter in an encampment off Lisbon Street, which he said has been shut down by the Lewiston Police Department. He is searching for another place to pitch his tent for the coming winter. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission has authorized spending $520,000 to purchase 24 temporary modular shelters, as well as three other structures, to donate to the Twin Cities for a temporary homeless village at a site to be determined.

Using American Rescue Plan Act funds, the county will set up a subgrant to donate the 24 pallet modules, two bathroom units, a shelter for meeting space, plus pay for shipping the units for the Androscoggin County Temporary Shelter program.

The program is part of a plan between the county and Lewiston and Auburn to address the increase in homelessness this year. The village would house 48 individuals from January to May.

The total price tag for the project is in excess of $1.5 million. The project as presented to the commissioners Wednesday night, would have the county be responsible for paying the nonoperating expenses of $998,800, with the remaining $518,880 in operating expenses paid for by the state, local and philanthropic means.

“I was shocked when I got this,” interim County Administrator Clarice Proctor said. She said initially the county’s share was estimated to cost $651,000 before jumping to nearly a $1 million.

While they supported the concept, commissioners balked at the $1 million price tag, especially with the added expenses such as utilities, site preparation, land lease, sewer, plumbing, electrical, technology and storing units when they are dismantled in May.


“This is creating a new department,” Commissioner Garrett Mason of Lisbon said. “In other states this would fit perfectly in a county’s jurisdiction. But this is not how Maine is set up. We don’t have a county health department. We don’t have a county DHHS. That’s all done at the town and state level. I’m all for being part of this, but there has to be a better way of working with current infrastructure that is already in place.”

“It’s a wonderful project that we should be involved with,” Commissioner Roland Poirier of Lewiston added. “But going back to when we first learned about having ARPA money allocated to us, we said before we knew of any projects that we were not going to start a new department knowing that funding would be an ongoing responsibility of the county.”

Following the county’s decision, officials in Auburn said Thursday that the city “remains committed” to moving the effort forward, and continuing discussions with the county and Lewiston.

“The city of Auburn has stated from the beginning that this is a regional challenge that will require a regional response,” Assistant City Manager Brian Wood said. “Now that we know how much the county is willing to put toward this effort we can amend, scale and make operational decisions. The ultimate goal is to ensure those in the region experiencing temporary homelessness during the winter months have safe, secure, overnight housing while connecting with service providers during the day to ultimately transition into permanent housing.”

Wood said the $1 million budget “was inclusive of site work, prep and other operational needs that were location dependent.”

Reached Thursday, Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said, “This is a new type of project, and I’m very pleased that the county sees the merits of this. I want to work closely with the county and other partners to fill in the gaps and make this a reality before Jan. 1.”


Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said he’s hoping all three parties can come together to approve the remaining funding to move forward.

“Both cities have put forth efforts to address this challenge for the upcoming winter months,” he said. “While the city of Lewiston is appreciative of the funding that the county approved, it’s simply not enough.”

The proposal came forward last month as both cities seek solutions to an increase in the unhoused population as cold weather sets in. After Auburn recently took enforcement action to shut down an encampment at a local church, homeless advocates questioned city policies that do not allow for emergency overnight shelters.

In order for the winter shelter to be in Auburn, zoning rules would have to change, or an emergency declaration would have to be used. In Lewiston, a new shelter overlay district approved as part of a new shelter ordinance last month limits potential locations for the winter shelter.

According to the proposal, the facilities would be supported by the county’s Emergency Management Agency, but EMA Director Angela Molino said her agency would need to hire more staff.

County Commissioner Edouard Plourde of Lewiston wondered if the county would have to absorb additional costs such as maintenance, insurance, vandalism, plus the cost for storage, which Molino said would cost much more than the $10,000 listed in the proposed budget.


When Chairman Sally Christner of Turner asked if there was a way for the county to donate the units without taking ownership, the discussion changed to coming up with a compromise.

Poirier suggested the $520,000 would cover the purchase of the units.

With the intention clear that the county would not be responsible for storage or other costs, the board unanimously agreed to the allocation, contingent upon a location being chosen and a signed agreement for the sub grant.

Staff Writer Andrew Rice also contributed to this report.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story