The former Sun Journal office building at 104 Park St. in Lewiston, seen in July 2022, is slated to become a 37-bed shelter, though the plan has been met with some resistance. The property is owned by the Lewiston Housing Authority. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

LEWISTON — On the day that a $3.7 million shelter project was announced in Lewiston, city staff were discussing ways to “take the wind out” of the proposal.

A letter was drafted — but ultimately not sent — to state housing officials that expressed “shock and disappointment” over the project, and its potential impact to the downtown and the Choice Neighborhoods revitalization effort. Some elected officials have said they and city staff were left in the dark about the plan, and still haven’t received much information as the Planning Board gears up to discuss the project Monday.

Officials with Lewiston Housing Authority, which is behind the homeless shelter effort, say they were equally surprised by the city’s reaction given the need for solutions to the homelessness crisis.

The proposed 37-bed shelter, dubbed the Lewiston Unhoused Response Center, will be on Lewiston Housing property at 104 Park St., which is within the city’s homeless shelter overlay district approved by the City Council last year. However, in order to move forward, it will require a conditional use permit from the Planning Board as well as a new shelter license granted by the City Council.

Since the state funding for the project was announced March 23, there has been little public discussion between officials, but emails obtained by the Sun Journal through a Freedom of Access Act request show that City Hall — as well as other organizations — was caught off guard, not entirely supportive of the project, and scrambled to respond to the announcement.

An email from economic development staff to city administration on the day the project was announced shared a draft letter to state officials that was described as “a possible response to push back and try to take the wind out of the 104 Park Street proposal.”


The letter states that staff believe a shelter on Park Street will have “a significant adverse impact on the redevelopment of downtown Lewiston and runs counter to the intent and purpose of the Choice Neighborhood initiative,” while adding that the winter emergency shelter at Calvary United Methodist Church was a “debacle.”

It also states that Lewiston Housing purchased the Park Street building despite a previous handshake agreement to redevelop the site with organizers who are behind a cooperative food market, part of the Choice Neighborhoods plan. Lewiston Housing says the project won’t be impacted.

If approved, the shelter would be run by Community Concepts, the Immigrant Resource Center and Community Clinical Services, the same team behind the shelter at Calvary church.

In the draft letter, staff said the organizations do “important and critical work” in Lewiston, but that “their management and operation of the temporary overnight warming center” at the church “did not go well.” 

“That initiative resulted in theft and destruction of church property, rampant substance abuse and overdoses on site and adjacent to it, and a very small percentage of guests utilizing supportive services.  It does not instill confidence that they will be able to manage the proposed shelter well,” it said.

According to police Chief David St. Pierre, there were a total of 147 calls for service at Calvary United Methodist Church between Jan. 17 and March 31, of which 53 were “self-initiated” or “proactive” calls by officers for things like property site checks, checking on staffers, foot patrols, and more.


He said those numbers only reflect calls logged at the church’s address, and would “not include calls or complaints that may have been generated in the area surrounding their address that could have involved clients of the shelter.”

When asked this week about the reaction from city staff, City Administrator Heather Hunter said the two primary concerns are the “impact on Choice Neighborhoods, particularly the co-op food market, and the proximity to our downtown business district.”

Advocates for a low-barrier shelter have argued that many of those service calls would already be happening throughout the city, and that the downtown business district already suffers from places like the Lewiston Public Library having to operate as a de-facto shelter during the day.


The shelter did not appear as an item of discussion on the City Council agenda at last week’s meeting, but it was brought up multiple times. During a discussion on Lewiston Housing’s proposal for senior housing at the former Martel School, several councilors said they had some hesitancy due to recent “transparency” issues with Lewiston Housing.

“Our council did not know until you had already received a grant. I want transparency,” said Councilor Linda Scott. “I want to be ensured that if we move forward, you’ll come to us.”

“Trust is important, and transparency builds trust,” said Councilor Lee Clement.


During public comment, former councilor Luke Jensen said he had concerns with the shelter, but also with how the project came together.

“I’m hoping at least the council was aware the decision was happening, because if it wasn’t it just seems like a big undermining of our city,” he said. “And if anyone was aware and didn’t share it with the others I’d find that to be completely egregious.”

The emails obtained by the Sun Journal show that Mayor Carl Sheline discussed the proposal with state housing officials two days before it was announced. The emails also show that at least one city staff member was told a week prior.

Councilor Rick LaChapelle said last week that he was told by Sheline that he didn’t have any involvement with the proposal until the announcement, but believes otherwise. He said it’s “something that should be handled in front of all the citizens.”

“Staff and the council were kept out of the loop,” he said. “The only thing I’ve received is what I’ve read in the newspaper.”

Sheline said what he knew has been “peddled as a conspiracy theory” by some. He said he found out when Lewiston Housing told him the application for the state funds had been submitted. He said he then reached out to state housing officials to “wholeheartedly endorse” the application.


“While the council went back and forth voting for moratoriums and moratorium extensions, I have supported and advocated for a local shelter openly and transparently from Day 1 as mayor,” he said. “I am grateful that Maine Housing funded Lewiston Housing’s application. A shelter with transitional resources to provide the homeless the help they need so they join our local workforce will benefit our unhoused community and our city.”

Chris Kilmurry, executive director of Lewiston Housing, said the reaction so far from city officials has been both surprising and expected.

He said it was surprising because city officials have been engaged in conversations on the need for “comprehensive solutions” to homelessness, and also because “we brought forward a non-Lewiston-taxpayer-funded proposal that followed the very guidance the City Council approved with the shelter ordinance and overlay.”

“The 104 Park campus was even discussed as a suitable location for homeless services,” he said. “However, (the city officials’ reaction) was also expected because homelessness is a difficult and controversial topic, and opinions can be strongly divided. I sympathize with the council. They are in a position to provide and deliver for their constituents, and topics like homelessness will likely never generate consensus.”

When asked about the impending approval process before the Planning Board and council, Kilmurry said he’s confident about the project moving forward.

“We are following the guidelines that were provided to the public as part of the ordinance and shelter overlay, and we have had a very constructive conversation with city staff regarding our application and process for permitting,” he said.


LaChapelle said despite the state funding, he’s concerned for the overall cost of the project and the impact it will have.

“Anything helps, no question about it. The intentions are great, but this problem is not going away with a homeless shelter,” he said. “I’m not here to knock anybody, but it should not be done behind closed doors.”

Kilmurry has previously said that the state funding covers mostly operational costs with close to 80% of the costs being staff-related. He said the Immigrant Resource Center and Lewiston Housing will provide housing navigation services, while the Immigrant Resource Center and Community Concepts will provide the day-to-day management of the shelter. Community Clinical Services will provide case management, service coordination, therapy and counseling, and access to off-site substance abuse treatment.


While the merits of a low-barrier homeless shelter have been debated in Lewiston since last year, concern over Lewiston Housing’s proposal seems to bridge multiple stakeholder groups due to its location. It’s within the downtown business district, but also on a property that was slated to be involved in the Choice Neighborhoods revitalization plan.

At least one Planning Board member expressed concern to city staff over the proposal, stating it “seems to go directly against the Comprehensive Plan and Choice Neighborhoods grant proposal.” At the time, it was unclear whether the project would go before the Planning Board.

The board member said the shelter is “definitely not part of the Healthy Neighborhoods stakeholder plan, where mixed-use and retail at that location was specifically targeted as a critical part of the revitalization of both Kennedy Park and the Pine Street corridor.”


They also said it “undermines development along the adjacent business corridor that is desperately trying to bounce back to pre-COVID levels of safety, business appetite and community interest. Our tax base comes from this type of development, not shelter services run by state organizations that can literally operate anywhere and aren’t conducive to revitalization.”

The Lewiston Auburn Community Market, a multi-stakeholder cooperative looking to establish a community food center as part of the Choice Neighborhoods plan, has said it was also “undermined” by the shelter proposal because it had been under the impression it would be purchasing the building alongside Lewiston Housing.

A recent letter from its board of directors to Lewiston Housing said “the choice to move forward on a single-party sale agreement when the LACM Board had a verbal deal with LHA has shocked our team and undermined much of the trust work that had been built through negotiations.”

The board said it has also put $3.2 million in federal grant funds in jeopardy.

“The LACM see these events as a gross breach of a community partnership that the L-A initiatives have been working to build for over 10 years around food access and housing,” it states.

However, those involved with the shelter have said the project is meant as only a two-year solution, during which time a more permanent location could be considered.

Kilmurry said this week that the shelter and the planned community market will “not impact each other.” The first phase of the Choice initiative, known as the DeWitt development, is moving toward financing and development and includes 11,000 square feet of commercial space for the market, he said. The 14,800-square-foot former Sun Journal distribution facility, located at the rear of the 104 Park St. building that is targeted for the homeless shelter, is not part of the shelter.

“What I can say is that we are committed to LACM having a presence on the block. We have been working with them for well over two years regarding the DeWitt Choice site and have gone above and beyond to accommodate their evolving needs, because we believe in their mission and the value their services can provide to the community,” Kilmurry said.

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