LEWISTON — The Planning Board approved a conditional use permit for the proposed 37-bed Park Street homeless shelter Monday, the first step for organizers who hope to have the shelter up and running by fall.

The unanimous vote came a day after a Sun Journal story shed light on the initial reaction to the proposal from city officials, as well as concerns over the location and possible impact of the operation.

Board members said Monday that while there is no perfect location for a homeless shelter, the proposal meets the city’s criteria for shelters and is in an area where there is often unhoused people.

“I may have some heartburn over this tonight, but the fact is, it meets all the criteria for the (shelter) overlay district, zoning and use,” board member Michael Marcotte said.

The shelter, a collaboration between Lewiston Housing, Community Concepts and the Immigrant Resource Center, will operate using a $3.7 million grant from Maine Housing, part of legislation approved last year that provided funding for homeless shelters. The shelter in the former Sun Journal building at 104 Park St. will be a two-year temporary service, officials have said.

Organizers, who also operated the emergency shelter at the Calvary United Methodist Church this past winter, defended the operation Monday following comments from city staff who called it a “debacle.”


Chris Kilmurry, executive director of Lewiston Housing, said it’s “unfair” to compare the two projects, and that Community Concepts should be getting thanked by the city for its work to create a shelter “in the last minute to essentially save people’s lives.”

Kilmurry said the winter shelter operated on a budget of $300,000 in facilities that were not adequate, at a time when the city was looking for local agencies to step up. He said the same reasoning is why he applied for the state funding for the two-year shelter, which since coming to light has prompted comments from staff and elected officials about a lack of transparency and communication about the project.

Kilmurry said Lewiston Housing has had many conversations about the need for homeless services, and always understood that the city could not pay for a shelter. He said when the request-for-proposals was issued, “we had an incredibly tight window,” so Lewiston Housing worked with their previous partners to put together an application.

“I felt like we were responding to a call to action from the city, and doing what was asked of us,” he said, adding that it resulted in $3.7 million in state funds to use toward the problem.

Fatuma Hussein, director of the Immigrant Resource Center, said she was “outraged at the city for them to throw us under the bus,” referring to emails between staff about the Calvary United Methodist Church shelter.

“We worked so hard at the request of the city to put up the wellness shelter,” she said. “Lewiston has never addressed homelessness in the 22 years I’ve been doing this work. Lewiston needs to say thank you to all the organizations.”


City Administrator Heather Hunter said that while the operation did have “some peaks and valleys,” she agrees that it was run well on “a shoestring budget.” Hunter, like many others during the discussion Monday, said she hopes “open communication exists for all parties” moving forward.

Planning Board member Joshua Nagine, who recused himself from the vote, said during public comment that the city “absolutely needs” a low-barrier shelter, but said he’s concerned with the proposal because it “seems to fly in the face” of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Choice Neighborhoods redevelopment plan and economic development strategies.

Earlier in the meeting, Kilmurry said the goal all along has been to redevelop the 104 Park St. property into additional housing and commercial space that can complement the already-planned DeWitt development next to 104 Park St. along Pine Street. But, he said, until that work begins, which is estimated at least three years from now, “it makes sense right now as an opportunity to help people who are in need.”

Nagine, like several other board members, argued the city should revisit the shelter overlay zone, the zoning district created last year to regulate where shelters can operate. Several people said the district is too restrictive and that more areas of the city should be considered for the use. Nagine said it should be removed completely.

Craig Saddlemire, who chaired the former ad hoc shelter committee, said finding an appropriate space within the overlay zone is very difficult.

“The area looks big, but once you start looking within it, it’s very, very hard” to make work, he said.


Saddlemire also said that while there’s “no ideal place to put it,” he’s supportive of the shelter project. He said because it’s in a location where there are already unhoused people, it will hopefully divert them from spaces that aren’t programmed for their needs, like the Lewiston Public Library.

Regarding the controversy over the Calvary winter shelter, he said, “When the city asks private groups to take that kind of risk for public benefit, we really need to applaud them. Also, we should scrutinize what happened, learn from mistakes and do better.”

Silas Leavitt, development project manager for Lewiston Housing, said the current floor plan for the new shelter will put some beds in the front of building, with trailer units with bathrooms and showers placed in the former Sun Journal press facility. Second floor offices will be used for shelter staff.

The city’s shelter ordinance approved last year requires the project to receive a conditional use permit as well as a license approved by the City Council. While the ordinance prohibits “no-barrier” shelters, staff said this project is defined as “low-barrier,” which requires safety policies that can deny entry to guests who don’t adhere to certain rules.

Several officials said Monday that the ultimate goal is to use the two-year timeframe to find a more permanent shelter solution, including what is the best long-term location.

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