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- The Forecaster
BRUNSWICK — Councilors voted 6-2 Monday to extend a moratorium on homeless shelters from March 24 to May 1, instead of July 1.
The shorter extension is in an effort to “handle this as quickly as we can,” Chairman John Perrault said.
The council also set a special meeting and public hearing for April 8 to vote on what some have called “extremely restrictive” performance standards discussed at earlier workshops.
Councilors Dan Ankeles and Stephen Walker opposed the extension.
Ankeles said “it sends the wrong message about who we are as a town.”
“I can’t live with myself to drag this process any further,” Walker said.
The emergency moratorium, enacted last April, was only supposed to last six months. It was first extended in September.
Walker said the town faces a crisis.
“We are making it harder, harder and harder for any shelter provider to find a location, and with these performance standards, harder to operate a humanitarian need,” he said.
Councilors will go over the performance standards line by line at the special meeting and vote to either accept or reject them. Some of the proposals include accepted locations and proximity to services, density and size, maximum length of occupancy and maximum beds allowed.
The draft ordinance could limit the number of beds in town to 83, making it difficult for other shelters to operate since Tedford Housing’s proposed shelter and resource center would have 70 beds.
Walker in a previous meeting said a suggested six-month cap on a stay in a shelter is “cruel,” even though the performance standard’s intent is to “prevent homeless shelters from becoming permanent housing for the homeless.”
“I am completely frustrated with how this whole thing has gone and how we are handling this crisis in our town,” he said Monday.
The proposed performance standards were amended when councilors voted 5-3 – with Ankeles, Walker and Councilor Dan Jenkins opposed – to change the proposed minimum setback from any existing homeless shelter use from 500 to 1,000 feet.
It’s unclear whether the separation applies to shelters only within the town’s boundaries, or any shelter or similar facility regardless of municipal boundaries.
Councilor Kathy Wilson said she wants to make sure the performance standards include having a proposed resource center and shelter operate 24 hours a day, as recommended by the shelter task force in previous workshops.
“Being a homeless shelter reflects giving (someone) a home,” Wilson said.
The town has been trying to create an ordinance regulating homeless shelters since July 2017, when Tedford first proposed first proposed building a new shelter that would combine its two facilities in town.
However, after Tedford decided to build at Pleasant Hill Road and Baribeau Drive, town officials realized that current zoning laws do not include a definition for shelters. Although Tedford has operated several facilities in Brunswick since 1987, its current emergency facilities did not receive a permit because their use is not defined.
According to Town Manager John Eldridge, if any of the proposed zoning amendments or licensing ordinances pass, Tedford’s current facilities would not be impacted because they would be grandfathered.
Tedford Executive Director Craig Phillips has previously said if the resource center is built, the locations on Federal Street and Cumberland Street would close.
Brunswick town councilors on March 18 extended a moratorium on new homeless shelters to May 1.