BRUNSWICK — The yearlong push to create a zoning ordinance for homeless shelters in Brunswick may soon draw to a close, but not before a new licensing ordinance regulating “performance standards” raises alarm bells for local shelter officials.

A lengthy list of performance standards came before the town council Monday night, but will not be voted on until after a special meeting and public hearing April 8.

Councilors David Watson (from left), Steve Walker, Dan Jenkins and Christopher Watkinson discuss extending the shelter moratorium at Monday night’s town council meeting. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

Some of these standards are “extremely problematic,” Tedford Housing’s executive director Craig Phillips said Monday, pointing out a suggested six-month cap for how long a person could stay in the shelter. Sometimes there are external factors that may postpone a person getting a housing voucher or securing stable housing, he said. To put someone on the street because the process takes too long is “contrary to everything Tedford represents,” he said, calling it a “cruel way to treat people.” This requirement listed for non-apartment style shelters and resource centers, he said, with the underlying intention being to exempt families. However, the planned resource center would include many apartment-style family shelter units.

There is also a stipulation that shelters should not begin or continue operations until it receives a license from the town, Phillips said, which could present issues if they are required to shut down for a time. Renewing the license every three years also seems unnecessary, he said, given that many of the requirements, such as emergency management, communication, and lighting plans, as well as hours of operation and turn away policies are unlikely to change often.

There is also the additional suggested requirement that they participate in the Maine State Housing Authority Monitoring Program, of which Tedford is already a part.

Other items under the drafted ordinance include requiring the singles shelter remain open during the day, which it currently does not.

“Being a homeless shelter reflects giving (someone) a home,” Councilor Kathy Wilson said.

“We are examining what it would mean to be open 24 hours a day, especially for the resource center,” Phillips said.

The drafted ordinance could also limit the maximum number of beds in town to 83. Tedford’s proposed shelter and resource center has 70 beds and would close the existing facilities on Cumberland and Federal streets.

The town has been working for more than a year to craft an ordinance regulating homeless shelters ever since Tedford started a push to develop a new shelter and homelessness resource center in the city. Potential neighbors pushed back, and town officials realized Brunswick doesn’t have any zoning ordinances regulating shelters, despite the fact that Tedford has operated in town for decades. The Tedford project has been on the back burner ever since.

At an earlier meeting, councilor Steve Walker cautioned against over-regulating. “We keep squeezing and squeezing and squeezing down” where the shelters can go and how they can operate, he said. Phillips too expressed concerned with a list that he said would likely be the “Most extensive set of requirements in the state, possibly with the exception of Portland.”

Councilors voted Monday night to extend the current shelter moratorium, which expires March 24, to May 1 instead of the originally posted July 1 in an effort to speed up the process.  The zoning ordinance and proposed performance standards simply will not be ready in time, Town Manager John Eldridge said at a recent meeting.

Councilor Steve Walker voted against the extension as a protest. “This is a crisis,” he said. “We are making it harder, harder and harder for any shelter provider to find a location” and with the performance standards, “harder to operate a humanitarian need.”

“I can’t live with myself to drag this process any further,” he said. Councilor Dan Ankeles also voted against extending the moratorium because it sends “the wrong message about who we are as a town,” he said.

A special meeting and public hearing for both the performance standards ordinance and the zoning ordinance is scheduled for April 8. At that hearing councilors will go through the performance standards line by line and vote to either accept or remove each one. Councilor James Mason said they expect it will be a lengthy process.

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