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Advocates say weekend attack on two homeless people in Auburn highlights the need for better support

Advocates for those experiencing homelessness in Lewiston-Auburn say there are not enough shelter beds or coordinated services for those living on the street. And they say the attack on two homeless people last weekend in Auburn is once again highlighting the need for a better support system.

There is no publicly funded or municipal shelter for adults in Lewiston-Auburn, says Chris Bicknell, Executive Director of New Beginnings, A shelter for children and young adults. Bicknell, a member of Lewiston's new ad hoc shelter committee which begin sits work on April 11, says that resources for unhoused residents are spotty and scattered. He's calling on members of the community to demand that local and state officials create the needed housing and economic stability pathways. And he says last weekend's unprovoked attack on two people sleeping in an Auburn park, has put a spotlight on the issue again.

"The only good thing come out of it is it highlights....the reality of the harshness of people who live on the streets and may mobilize these communities to create resources to help get people off the streets," he says.

Bicknell says community awareness is growing around the homelessness problem. His shelter is always at capacity, he says, disproportionately filled with LGBTQ youth who encounter difficult barriers every day.

Andrew Phinney, Executive Director of St. Martin De Porres shelter, says the parish has a robust fundraising and volunteer network that has stepped up during the pandemic. But Phinney says there still isn't enough room for every person who needs a bed, services, and understanding.

"It's just on everyone's minds - an awareness that people are people and they deserve dignity and respect, regardless of where they are coming from," Phinney says.

Shelter operators say donations of money, seasonal clothing, and non-perishable food are always welcome.

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline's ad hoc shelter committee - charged with assessing the size of the Lewiston-Auburn homeless population, the services they need, and the resources now available will deliver recommendations to the City Council SOMETIME this summer.

A 10 year plan to eliminate homelessness in Lewiston and Auburn came out in 2009. The United Way of Androscoggin County agreed to measure progress under the plan to reduce homelessness, reduce the risk of homelessness, and to provide 90 units of affordable rental housing. The organization did not return our call for comment.