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Waterville considering yurts to keep unhoused people warm during winter

As Maine's largest cities grapple with a growing homeless population, Waterville is considering a plan to purchase yurts and portable heating fuel to help unhoused people stay warm during the winter.

The city would buy 10 all-season canvas tents and place them around the Head of Falls trail where about 40 people have been living.

Waterville Mayor Jay Coelho said in addition to keeping people warm, the yurts could provide a centralized place for accessing outreach and city services. And he believes it could be a potential model for other municipalities around the state.

"Other towns and communities are constantly moving their homeless and shuffling them around," he said in an interview. "I think our that city has sort of taken a stance where we just not going to do that. I think it makes more sense to actually know where your unhoused population is, so that you can get them services that they need so that they can get off the street."

Todd Stevens, Waterville's community outreach coordinator, said he viewed the idea as a temporary solution to help the city buy more time before developing a long term homelessness plan.

"Is it the best case scenario? No, it's not. But they're going to be down there already; they're already on the trail," he told city councilors at a meeting Tuesday night.

Coelho acknowledged that there are questions about logistics and liability. But he said he wants Waterville and other community partners to develop a specific plan, so that city councilors can vote on it within the next week.

"If it does nothing more than make noise so that other people start figuring out real time solutions, then good. I'm glad it did," he said.