Brunswick neighbors continue to question shelter expansion

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BRUNSWICK — Residents continue to push back against proposed changes in the zoning ordinance that would allow expanded homeless shelters in the northern part of downtown.

During the second workshop held on zoning and defining homeless shelters, planners on Tuesday also discussed recommendations made by the Shelter Task Force.

The part of town under consideration encompasses the area between Union and Mill streets and includes Cedar Street to the south. The proposed amendments would define and establish uses and language for shelter facilities as either apartment style, non-apartment style, or resource center.

Meanwhile, until the zoning changes are approved by the Planning Board and brought before the Town Council, a plan by Tedford Housing to build an expanded shelter and resource center on Baribeau Drive and Pleasant Hill Road remains in limbo.

Tedford’s emergency shelter on Cumberland Street is grandfathered and wouldn’t be impacted by a new zoning ordinance. And some residents in that neighborhood feel they are already “doing their part” by supporting the emergency shelter.

“To ask our neighborhood … to accept the proposed zoning ordinances that would allow more shelters is not only unnecessary but unfair to the singles, couples, families with children who live here for more reasons that I can expound on with the limited time I have,” said resident Amy Barriault.

Under the newly proposed amendments suggested by the Shelter Task Force, Growth Residential 6 (GR6) is where non-apartment shelters and resource facilities would be allowed as a conditional use because of the area’s density.

And, as the recommendations are written, one of the definitions states that an apartment-style shelter “is a facility of at least three units, with the primary purpose being providing ‘temporary’ accommodations to homeless families, among other groups of people, but they have to be ‘grouped in’ as established before prior to arrival to the facility … ”

However, some residents questioned the use of the word “families.” Director of Planning and Development Matt Panfil said the word “family” was accidentally included in the document and the language would be changed to “individual housekeeping units.”

But that didn’t sit well with residents.

“So there could be a group of six guys who were together before in another shelter and can’t find beds anywhere else and come here,” resident Lynn Holland said. “There is an extreme shortage of single beds so having people being grouped together and come up where there’s housekeeping units available that don’t have any definitions, we will get them.”

Resident Kathleen Funderburk echoed Holland’s sentiments.

“When I think of family I think of maybe a child being involved,” Funderburk said.

“Not allowing opportunities for children and whomever is caring for them who may not be a parent and then maybe six men or six women come in, where does that leave the children. Have they been left out,” Funderburk asked.

Panfil insisted “there was a lot of concern about including children because a household doesn’t always have children.”

His statement got an emotional response from those in attendance, with a resident even screaming out: “Yeah, let’s just forget the children!”

Panfil reassured residents that there are regulations that consider children and unaccompanied minors versus single adult residents.

He said the issue will be brought up in future workshops; the next Planning Board meeting on homeless shelters is another workshop scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Craig Phillips, executive director of Tedford Housing, reiterated that Tedford’s facilities on Federal Street are for adults with children and if adults seek services at the Federal Street location, they are referred to the Cumberland location.

While zoning amendments get ironed out, more people are being turned away from shelters. And, as winter approaches, this becomes more urgent for the town to finalize.

So far this year, Tedford has turned away 354 individuals and 228 families, according to the agency’s website.

“It’s getting cold out here,” said Michael Greenleaf, who was born in Brunswick but became homeless after losing his job.

“I’ve been on the streets for almost a year now and I understand they want to be meticulous about getting these ordinances straightened out,” Greenleaf said. “but the longer they take, the longer people like me are just trying to stay warm.”

Craig Phillips, executive director of Tedford Housing, speaks to the Brunswick Planning Board at a Nov. 13 workshop on homeless shelters.

Under proposed amendments suggested by the Shelter Task Force in Brunswick, GR6 is where non-apartment homeless shelters and resource facilities would be allowed as a conditional use.