BRUNSWICK — A group of Brunswick residents are determined to prevent a second homeless shelter from opening in their neighborhood, claiming that with the existing Cumberland Street Shelter they are already supporting more than their fair share of the town’s homeless and low-income populations.

More than a dozen people spoke at Tuesday night’s planning board meeting, including a lawyer, asking that the board not move zoning recommendations to the town council until the allowance for “non-apartment style” shelters, whether dormitory or barracks-style, be removed.

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

Nearly a year 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 current 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. A shelter task force was developed to create recommendations for the new zoning ordinance, which included definitions for a resource center, apartment-style shelter and non-apartment style. The planning board reviewed the task force recommendations and made a few changes over a series of three continued workshop sessions through the fall and winter.

Ultimately, the board narrowly passed those recommendations on Tuesday, amending only that a 500-foot separation between existing and new shelters be included.

The residents of Growth Residential District 6 — the area west of Union Street to the Mill Street, Route 1 intersection and north of Cedar Street — said they were concerned about the possible implications of another single-style shelter in their neighborhood.

This area acts as a “gateway to downtown Brunswick” attorney Kevil Haley said in a phone interview, meaning that it is close to many local services, but is also the only traditional residential neighborhood in town that allows for the non-apartment style shelter.

Haley represents 15 to 20 residents, though there are more than 100 households in that zoning district.

“None of my clients are of the view that we ought not to contend with this use (for homeless shelters),” he said, but they are concerned that it “increases the density and intensity of the issues that come with that population” and that any additional shelter would be “fundamentally inconsistent with residential neighborhoods.”

“The thing that shouldn’t get lost is that at the end of this process the town is going to have a place, many places, in which it is going to be possible for people to develop facilities to address this need,” he said, noting that nobody is suggesting that the current shelter, which houses approximately 15 people, be moved, just that additional ones not be allowed.

A map of growth residential district six, the site of the existing Cumberland Street homeless shelter. A number of residents are concerned that as the only traditionally residential area allowing barracks-style shelters under the new zoning ordinance, they will become the designated area for new shelters.

While Tedford has been a great neighbor for years, Jane Millett, a town councilor and GR 6 resident said during the public hearing that when creating a zoning ordinance, they might not know other operators who may come in in the future. These ordinances will serve Brunswick, quite likely, for decades. There are concerns for the elderly and the teens in town who frequent People Plus, she said.

Mitchell Brown of the Northwest Brunswick Neighborhood Association agreed, adding that teens at the center have reported drug solicitation and harassment near the existing shelter, making them feel uncomfortable. Of the more than 100 households in the area, only one or two have supported the idea, he said, leaving the rest “overwhelmingly against any additional shelter in the district.” This is not a NIMBY, or “not in my backyard” issue, he said.

Chick Carroll, a founding member of the Gathering Place, a “day shelter for those who are poor, homeless, lonely and otherwise looking for a place of comfort and conviviality,” spoke in favor of the shelter and what Tedford is trying to do to expand its reach. He has known hundreds of homeless people over the years, he said, and of those, he has only ever met one person who wished to be in a shelter on a long-term basis. The rest want to get back on their feet, rent apartments and have a home, he said. Through listening to people, it is clear that “a lot of fear exists” over what additional shelters may mean in the community, but that he has not experienced difficulties with the people he works with.

Ultimately, Tedford’s goal for the ordinance is to give the organization reasonable opportunities to provide a suitable fixed location, “in other words, to have a home” for the population it serves, Craig Phillips, executive director said. The recommendations provided a good jumping off point to “modestly address a greater need” of the community, but there are still matters like size, location, price and density to consider.

The recommendations moved to the town council, which will further discuss the matter.

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: