BRUNSWICK — As winter closes in, and roughly nine months after Tedford Housing first proposed an expanded homeless shelter, Brunswick officials have taken a step toward ironing out a new zoning to allow shelters to legally operate in town.

The Brunswick Town Council and the Planning Board hosted a joint workshop Thursday review the Shelter Task Force’s recommendations for the ordinance, presented Oct. 1, and give input on some of the areas where the task force had not been able to agree.

Tedford Housing’s Cumberland Street unit in Brunswick, as seen in this March 2017 file photo (Ben Goodridge / The Times Record)

Nearly nine months ago, Tedford Housing announced plans for a new homeless shelter and resource center on Baribeau Drive and Pleasant Hill Road that could help find temporary housing for the 354 individuals and 228 families the agency has to turn away each year.

However, Brunswick town officials realized zoning ordinances do not define homeless shelters and, as it stands, they are not permitted, even though Tedford has been operating in Brunswick for decades.

Some of the main recommendations, according to task force chairman James Mason, were to define shelters as apartment style, non-apartment style and resource center. Each definition explicitly stated that the areas were intended for a temporary situation. They recommended making homeless shelters available as a permitted use with a conditional use permit, ensuring that all applications will go before the Planning Board.

There was a concern that this might give the impression that homeless people were not welcome in Brunswick, Mason said, potentially perpetuating the stigma of the homeless as “other.” 

The task force also is weighing how many beds a shelter should be allowed to have. Instead of instituting a maximum, the task force suggested four residents per dwelling unit and “applying that number to each zoning district to determine density.”

The proposed shelter and resource center would have ideally doubled the existing beds, Tedford’s Executive Director Craig Phillips said, creating 12 family units on the first floor and 30 single units on the second.

There other standards recommended, including the separation of youth and adults.

Councilor Jane Millett said some of those opposed to the shelter were concerned about its size. This is part of why she supports their current model of a family shelter and a separate adult shelter.

It’s good for people to get a sense of them as neighbors in the community instead of concentrated,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of goodwill in Brunswick. People want to take care of their neighbors.”

Any new zoning ordinance will not affect Tedford’s current emergency housing units on Federal and Cumberland streets, as those facilities are grandfathered.

Numbers from the task force show that roughly one-third of the people served by or turned away from Tedford are not from Brunswick, showing this is a regional problem, and not just a Brunswick issue, Millett said.

Two years ago a report that revealed more than 400 adults in 2015 went to Tedford for help, but only a quarter could be sheltered. Only 22 of 300 families calling Tedford that year could be sheltered.

As another winter approaches, with a zoning ordinance still possibly a few months away from adoption, Tedford will do what we can with what we have,” Phillips said, adding that the demand for housing stays relatively consistent throughout the year and they will continue to try to make sure people do not have to sleep outside in the cold.

The task force recommendations, while not perfect, are a “fairly good starting point,” he said.

As the process moves forward, council chair John Perrault said that there would be multiple opportunities for public comment, at hearings with both the planning board and town council.

The Shelter Task Force’s recommendations are available at brunswickme.org/shelter-task-force.

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