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Despite opposition, Lewiston council approves six-month moratorium on new homeless shelters

The sun rises over billowing smokestacks in Lewiston, Maine, Friday, March 17, 2017.
David Goldman
AP file
The sun rises over billowing smokestacks in Lewiston, Maine, Friday, March 17, 2017.

After hours of testimony on Tuesday night, Lewiston councilors narrowly voted to approve a six-month moratorium on new low- or no-barrier homeless shelters in the city.

The moratorium was passed on a 4-3 vote, and came in response to a proposal for a 24-bed shelter and resource center earlier this year. In explaining his support for the moratorium, Councilor Larry Pease cited the hundreds of people who are being housed at several hotels in the Portland area, and said Lewiston needed more regulations for shelters.

"This is what we're looking to do here. We want to make sure that, when we do it, we do it right," Pease said. "It's affordable. And it'll help a majority of people. Not just 24 beds."

On Tuesday, dozens of community members spoke out against the moratorium, saying that urgent action was needed to assist residents experiencing homelessness, and that the city's current rules were adequate to regulate shelters.

Councilor Linda Scott said that after listening to hours of that testimony, it was clear to her that immediate action was needed to address homelessness.

"But I think that we have the things we need in place, we have the language we need to not do this. And we have a situation that needs to be addressed right now," Scott said. "Not on Sept. 25, when this moratorium would no longer be in effect. So I will be voting no."

Mayor Carl Sheline formed an ad hoc committee last month to examine the issue of homelessness in Lewiston and advise councilors on potential solutions.

Several councilors called for the moratorium issue to be referred to that committee before taking any action, but that proposal was voted down.