Enzo Gelestino, right, stands outside a school bus he has been converting into a home for his two children. He has been using his disability income to buy materials for the conversion. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

For months upon months, public and elected officials in Lewiston and Auburn have been talking about the problem of the growing homeless population in the Twin Cities.

At the same time, the homeless have been enduring the problem.

While officials sit around tables discussing what to do, the homeless are living it. These are people who, for whatever reason, are now living on the street, are desperate for warmth, food and safety. The same things we all want. The things we all should have, but don’t.

Endless discussion about it is simply not enough. The time to act is now.

Our readers have proved that in the past 24 hours, as dozens and dozens of people have reached out to help the homeless families we featured on the front page of Sunday’s Sun Journal.

Enzo Gelestino, a 51-year-old father of two, gets up multiple times at night to check the propane space heater in his renovated school bus to make sure his young children are warm. An Army veteran, he sleeps on the cold floor of the bus, but makes sure the children are warm.


Dan, who has three children, has been searching for a home for his family for more than 16 months. During that time the family has lived in campers, stayed with friends and family, and stayed in hotel rooms by the week, moving to different locations six times as Dan works full-time to save enough money to afford a permanent place for them to live.

These fathers each ensure their children are attending school, but worry about what people think of them. “People look down on you,” Gelestino said. “You can’t get any help and everybody wants to look down on you.”

Knowing that the people who look down on him go to their own homes with plentiful food and warm beds must make it so much worse.

The Garcia-Cruz family eats together recently at the Lewiston House of Pizza. They are living as a family at Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston. From left are Moises, 16, Miguel, 20, Miguel Garcia-Ruiz and his wife, Maria Isabel Cruz Gonzales, and Marcos, 14. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

The Garcia-Cruz family is living at Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston. Miguel Garcia-Ruiz has lived at the shelter for 17 years, working full-time and sending most of his earnings to his family in Mexico. His family recently joined him, moving into the shelter and they all now hope — eventually — to find a home they can afford. They have never asked for social services or general assistance, preferring to earn their own way.

These are stories of strength — of families working and worrying about staying together. Saving and suffering to find warm homes for their children, where they can thrive just like any other.

In Auburn on Monday night, the City Council was expected to direct the Planning Board to review homeless shelter uses. By ordinance, the city does not allow emergency shelters and it’s a violation for anyone to camp overnight on public or private property. Those restrictions upended a homeless encampment at the First Universalist Church over the summer, forcing people who had been camping on the church lawn to move into the woods, living in hiding, farther away from services they so desperately need.


What exactly does “direct the Planning Board to review homeless shelter uses” mean?

The zoning ordinance does not allow general use shelters, but does allow shelters for abuse victims. According to its meeting agenda, the City Council has indicated it would like the Planning Board to consider allowing emergency shelters or some other kind of shelter based on nonemergency needs in some locations within the city, near needed goods and services.

The Planning Board would be expected to review the need, use the information it gathers from that review to initiate a zoning change, including writing an ordinance and holding a public hearing. Then it could provide a recommendation to the City Council on a zoning amendment “designating which types of shelters should be allowed and where they should be allowed as permitted uses or special exception in the City of Auburn.”

In other words, more discussion about the very same things that have been discussed for months.

Dan, center right, receives a pair of new gloves from New Beginnings street outreach staff member Josh Hughes, left, in Kennedy Park in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

In Lewiston on Tuesday, the City Council is scheduled to a hold a public hearing and vote on final passage of an amendment to the city’s Offenses and Miscellaneous Provisions Ordinance to ban loitering, camping, sleeping or remaining on city property, including any “municipal cemetery or park, field or woodlands, any municipal recreation facility or playfield, or any other city owned controlled or maintained property,” between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

No homeless encampments.


The amendment has an interesting invitation, that a person could get special permission from the city administrator to remain on public property overnight if the person making the request can assure the city’s top official that the use would not “unreasonably disturb persons who occupy property adjacent to the property in question, whether the use will cause damage to the property from destruction or overuse, and whether adequate facilities exist to support the proposed use.”

In other words, potentially allowing homeless people to camp on public property overnight if they prove they won’t disturb anyone or cause any damage. Not an unreasonable expectation, but a far cry from actually addressing the greater need to shelter the homeless on a scale that matches the problem.

Setting up a case-by-case permission slip for homeless camping is no solution.

The need for homeless shelters is not something that popped up after the fall’s first frost. It’s been a discussion item of varying importance on council tables on both sides of the Androscoggin River for years, and most certainly one of the hottest topics in both Lewiston and Auburn over the past year.

Without a doubt, the fix is expensive. And, without a doubt, there is no single fix for every situation.

No doubt about it: talking and talking and talking about it is not going to fix anything.


Action will.

Over the past 24 hours, we have heard from nearly 100 readers and organizations that want to help the families we wrote about Sunday. They want to make sure the Gelestino family has the propane it needs to stay warm. The Maine Bureau of Veterans Services also reached out, and intends to connect Enzo Gelestino with a veteran service officer.

Our readers want to help Dan find a home for himself and his three children. They want to help the Garcia-Cruz family in any way they can, with food, clothing, money and support.

That’s action — real community action — and a true demonstration of the wonder and power of caring.

If you want to help, here’s what you can do:

The Gelestino family is living in their bus at the Lincoln Street boat launch in Lewiston and are happy to have visitors there. You can send money directly to Enzo Gelestino through “Chime” (search his account by his first and last name) or mail him a letter/package at: Enzo Gelestino, General Delivery, Lewiston ME 04240. He gets his propane tanks filled at BJs. You can send him a digital gift card for BJs (or anywhere) to gelestino_e@yahoo.com.


Dan’s children — ages 10, 12 and 13 — are in need of winter clothes and financial support to secure an apartment. To help Dan and his family, call him at 207-212-1836.

The Garcia-Cruz family is in search of a home in Lewiston and their teenage sons are in need of winter boots. They are grateful for any help readers wish to provide. Those who would like to connect with Miguel Garcia-Ruiz can receive his phone number by emailing vpaolella@sunjournal.com.

The Store Next Door Project at Lewiston High School, which relies 100% on community support to meet basic needs of over 300 teens experiencing homelessness, is another place readers can help local homeless families. For information, go to: facebook.com/SNDLHS/

And, New Beginnings, which has served homeless youth since 1980, accepts donations to help local teens. For information, go to: newbeginmaine.org/

You know how else you can help? Tell your city official to stop talking and start doing.

Judith Meyer is executive editor of the Sun Journal.

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