Lewiston mayor creates new panel to tackle homeless shelter questions and planning

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline on Friday turned the tables on the citywide debate over whether or not to create a new homeless shelter.The pro-shelter Sheline issued a proclamation creating what he called the Mayoral Ad Hoc Shelter Committee tasked “to look at the current range of services, shelters, and housing options available to people experiencing homelessness in Lewiston,” he said at a City Hall news conference.Those options are not limited to a pending proposal to buy and convert a vacant, former beauty supply building into a/24 7 24-bed shelter for adults with services.The seven-member city council expresses serious reservations about that plan, voting 4-3 this week to advance the process of considering a moratorium on new shelters.Sheline said, “We can’t act Like we have the services we need — not when families are sleeping outside, not when our veterans are carrying all they own on their backs, not when kids are sleeping in cars and then expected to learn at school the next day. ” Lewiston currently has four religious-affiliated homeless shelters with a total of 78 beds, but they are usually full, and according to City Councilor Scott Harriman, with just as many people sleeping on the streets.Sheline asked the committee, which includes Harriman, to Report to him by July 31.Prior to Sheline’s action, Lewiston city councilors essentially wanted a timeout in deciding whether to move forward with a new shelter plan. Last month, advocates for the shelter called the Lewiston Auburn Transitional Resource Center and asked the Lewiston City Council to appropriate $350,000 toward the $625,000 budget.The plan called for Auburn to contribute $125,000, but Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said Friday his city council has not received any such proposal.The state agency Maine Housing would have contributed $150,000 under the plan.Lewiston City Councilor Bob McCarthy said Friday he agreed with the need but felt the ask was “unrealistically low.” “I think it’s going to be at least double that,” McCarthy said in an interview. “We’re not against it. We just want it done properly.” McCarthy and other councilors also worry a “low barrier” shelter, admitting people with drug and alcohol addiction, as tried at the Lewiston Memorial Armory for a few months during the pandemic last year, could cause problems.”The armory was a real horror show to the neighbors. They had packages stolen off their front porches,” McCarthy said. “They can’t use while they’re in the shelter, but they can go right outside the back of the building, drink, shoot up, and then come back in the building.”City Council President Lee Clement said in a telephone interview that they were “stewards of taxpayer dollars” already confronting a possible property tax hike resulting from next year’s budget.“For anyone to say the council is against anything is wrong,” Clement said, adding that any portrayals of them as trying to criminalize homelessness “are totally false.” Craig Saddelmire, an affordable development manager, with the Raise -Op Housing Coop Erative, will be one of the mayor’s committee co-chairpersons.Saddlemire said, “Everyone on this committee thinks this issue is urgent and the sooner we can have action the better.”

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline on Friday turned the tables on the citywide debate over whether or not to create a new homeless shelter.

The pro-shelter Sheline issued a proclamation creating what he called the Mayoral Ad Hoc Shelter Committee tasked “to look at the current range of services, shelters, and housing options available to people experiencing homelessness in Lewiston,” he said at a City Hall news conference.

Those options are not limited to a pending proposal to buy and convert a vacant, former beauty supply building into a 24/7 24-bed shelter for adults with services.

The seven-member city council expresses serious reservations about that plan, voting 4-3 this week to advance the process of considering a moratorium on new shelters.

Sheline said, “We can’t act like we have the services we need — not when families are sleeping outside, not when our veterans are carrying all they own on their backs, not when kids are sleeping in cars and then expected to learn at school the next day.”

Lewiston currently has four religious-affiliated homeless shelters with a total of 78 beds, but they are usually full, and according to City Councilor Scott Harriman, with just as many people sleeping on the streets.

Sheline asked the committee, which includes Harriman, to report to him by July 31.

Prior to Sheline’s action, Lewiston city councilors essentially wanted a timeout in deciding whether to move forward with a new shelter plan.

Last month, advocates for the shelter called the Lewiston Auburn Transitional Resource Center and asked the Lewiston City Council to appropriate $350,000 toward the $625,000 budget.

The plan called for Auburn to contribute $125,000, but Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said Friday his city council has not received any such proposal.

The state agency Maine Housing would have contributed $150,000 under the plan.

Lewiston City Councilor Bob McCarthy said Friday he agreed with the need but felt the ask was “unrealistically low.”

“I think it’s going to be at least double that,” McCarthy said in an interview. “We’re not against it. We just want it done properly.”

McCarthy and other councilors also worry a “low barrier” shelter, admitting people with drug and alcohol addiction, as tried at the Lewiston Memorial Armory for a few months during the pandemic last year, could cause problems.

“The armory was a real horror show to the neighbors. They had packages stolen off their front porches,” McCarthy said. “They can’t use while they’re in the shelter, but they can go right outside the back of the building , drink, shoot up, and then come back in the building.”

City Council President Lee Clement said in a telephone interview that they were “stewards of taxpayer dollars” already confronting a possible property tax hike resulting from next year’s budget.

“For anyone to say the council is against anything is wrong,” Clement said, adding that any portrayals of them as trying to make homelessness “are totally criminal false.”

Craig Saddelmire, an affordable development manager, with the Raise-Op Housing Cooperative, will be one of the mayor’s committee co-chairpersons.

Saddlemire said, “Everyone on this committee thinks this issue is urgent and the sooner we can have action the better.”

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