A homeless person finds shelter Wednesday morning in the entryway of a vacant building on Pine Street in Lewisotn after spending the night out in the cold and snow. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — A proposed emergency shelter for the region’s unhoused population is in limbo as officials from Lewiston, Auburn and Androscoggin County government are at a standstill over funding.

After weeks of talks on a proposal to establish a temporary winter shelter made up of modular units, officials in Auburn say it won’t move forward without more financial support from the county, which still has a significant amount of pandemic relief funds.

In a statement Friday, Lewiston administration said the idea is at “a standstill due to financial gaps and zoning challenges,” but Mayor Carl Sheline is pressing both cities to find some kind of solution as winter sets in.

Earlier this month, the county commission approved allocating $520,000 to purchase 24 modular units, known as Pallet shelters, leaving roughly $1 million in other costs to be funded by the Twin Cities. City officials on both sides were quick to say it wasn’t enough.

Auburn City Manager Phil Crowell said this week that the request made to the county was “a sum not to exceed one million dollars” to the Androscoggin County Emergency Management Agency to cover the cost of purchasing the shelter units and site preparation.” The programming and operational costs, estimated at $519,000, were to be covered by the cities of Auburn and Lewiston.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to move forward with this project without the county’s full support,” said Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque. “Use of county (American Rescue Plan Act) funds was critically important to bringing this project together for our region. Auburn will continue to collaborate with community partners, service providers, and our regional neighbors to seek solutions and provide services and support for unhoused members of our community.”


During a county commission meeting earlier this week, commissioners said they were surprised by the amount of requested funding and urged the cities to come up with more funds.

“I hope the cities that brought this plan forward find a way to bring the rest of the money together,” said Commissioner Garrett Mason of Lisbon. “We were able to provide funds for shelters that could be utilized by the homeless population from all over the county. I hope the cities are still able to continue.”

Chairman Sally Christner of Turner said, “it really took me by surprise that (the cities) were not going to take ownership of the project.”

Levesque responded Friday that without the county leading the effort, “it’s not going to be an impactful solution.”

“Do you delegate regional issues to a municipality to solve?” he said. “I think Auburn would say no, you can’t rely on one municipality alone to solve a regional problem.”

The proposal to create a 24-unit “village” came forward in October as both cities seek solutions to an increase in the unhoused population as cold weather arrives. 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 response, Levesque pitched the modular shelter idea. However, 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.

When asked Friday how Auburn plans to continue the effort, Levesque said the city has had multiple individuals and organizations reach out with ideas or offers to help. But, he said, the project will be “treading water” without more support from the region.

“I still hold out hope that commissioners will recognize the need, and the county will take the lead,” he said.

In a statement to the Sun Journal, Crowell said the county currently has a balance of more than $15 million in ARPA funds. He said the shelter village would offer a “lifeline for those experiencing homelessness,” and “would have been the first of its kind in Maine.”

Androscoggin County received a little more than $21 million in ARPA funds, and has so far allocated roughly $10.7 million, not including the $520,000 approved for the shelter project. The county has also set aside another $5 million for an HVAC system upgrade that has not yet gone to bid, and is also fielding requests for funding from local nonprofits.

Arthur Murray, left and Christopher Larochelle find shelter from the rain and snow Wednesday morning in the foyer of a business on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. Murray “couch surfs” with friends most nights while Christopher Larochelle, right, moves from town to town. “I have a place I built in Poland, but there are people squatting there that are worse off than me so I’m just working wherever I can and doing what I can to get by” he said with a smile. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Both cities have already allocated the majority of their ARPA funds.


Lewiston City Administrator Heather Hunter said that despite the standstill, “we will continue to count on and support our nonprofit private agencies and current shelters.”

In a statement late Friday, Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said he’s “at a loss for why we can’t stand up a winter shelter.”

“The money’s there, the resources are there, other organizations would come to the table. What’s missing is the political will to get this done,” he said.

Sheline said temperatures are below freezing at night, and he routinely sees people sleeping on business doorsteps or on city benches.

“I’ve talked to many downtown business owners and residents and they are frustrated that Lewiston hasn’t moved forward with a solution,” he said. “Even as the thermometer drops, I am hopeful that administration and the council can find a way to remove the barriers to opening a winter shelter.”

As proposed, the modular units would provide shelter for up to 48 people, with two shared bathroom units and a communal space. Other costs to get the project up and running by the goal of Jan. 1 were site preparation costs like utility connections, as well as staff, security and supplies.


Those involved have said several potential sites have been floated — including a vacant Lewiston parcel across from Hope Haven and a portion of Great Falls Plaza — but no official site had been chosen.

During the county commission meeting Wednesday, Christner said the county doesn’t have the infrastructure to provide the items sought by the cities.

“I think we’re all in agreement and on guard not to expand county government,” she said.

Edouard Plourde, the commissioner from Lewiston, questioned the process from the beginning, stating that no one behind the proposal attended the county’s previous meeting.

“Not to have anyone here to answer all of the other questions that were never addressed before, it made the project unfeasible,” he said. “It is not just a question about money, it is a question on the viability of the project and the return on the investment to help homeless people. I can give you a thousand reasons why this would not work.”

Staff Writer Steve Sherlock also contributed to this report.

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