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Lewiston's city council approves new rules for homeless shelters

Downtown Lewiston, Maine, is seen Friday, March 17, 2017.
David Goldman
AP file
Downtown Lewiston, Maine, is seen Friday, March 17, 2017.

After months of debate, Lewiston city councilors passed new regulations on homeless shelters Tuesday night.

The new rules regulate how shelters operate and where they can be built. They also cap the number of shelter beds in the city at 120, excluding shelters primarily serving families or youth.

Some councilors pushed back on parts of the plan, including a rule barring shelters from operating within 250 feet of schools or child cares. Councilor Scott Harriman argued that would significantly limit where facilities can operate.

"If somebody can sleep in the woods behind the childcare, or the school, why is it worse to have them in a shelter next door?" Harriman said.

The council ultimately voted to include the buffers.

The council also voted to withdraw a requirement that youth in shelters must enroll in school programs within 30 days of entry. Chris Bicknell, the director of the youth shelter New Beginnings, said that would create complications for those who may not be ready for a school environment.

"It would exclude a significant amount of the young people who come to our shelter, from even entering the shelter, and put them at an extremely large amount of risk, on the streets of Lewiston," Bicknell said.

In a statement after the vote, Mayor Carl Sheline said the changes have made shelters "more accessible to some of our unhoused neighbors."

Earlier this year, the council passed a six-month moratorium on new shelters.