AUBURN — The City Council is expected to direct the Planning Board to review homeless shelter uses in zoning districts Monday, a move that comes as Auburn and Lewiston have faced more pressure to respond to the regional homelessness crisis.

This fall, a homeless encampment at the First Universalist Church of Auburn sparked a citywide debate over Auburn’s approach to homelessness and its zoning policies that largely prohibit emergency shelters.

Allison and MJ chat Aug. 30 in front of a tent pitched on the lawn of a Unitarian Universalist church in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

At the time, church officials and homeless advocates said the encampment was a symptom of unmet needs in the community, including a lack of an overnight shelter. Auburn’s zoning, citywide, does not allow overnight homeless shelters, except for survivors of domestic abuse and human trafficking, for which some beds are available.

According to a City Council memo, officials indicated to staff that they would like the Planning Board to “consider allowing shelters for emergencies or other shelters based on nonemergency needs within the city in some locations.”

Proposed language in the order to the Planning Board states the board should hold a public hearing and consider which types of shelters and where they should be allowed, either as a permitted use or special exception, in Auburn.

The memo also states the board should consider the need to be in proximity “to other goods and services that a person residing in a shelter may need.”

Shortly after the church encampment was shut down due to code violations, city officials pitched the idea of a “shelter village” as an emergency measure for the winter. However, the proposed collaboration with the city of Lewiston and Androscoggin County government failed to move forward after funding disagreements.

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

Also on Monday, the council will host a joint workshop with the School Committee, and is slated to receive an update on its program that would develop a range of “shovel-ready” housing plans to be offered to city residents looking to build.

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