The Rev. Leslie Foley, pastor of Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church, leads a discussion last week about establishing temporary homeless shelters in the city. Pictured, from left, are Westbrook’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Administrator Prosper Lohomboli; Rep. Sue Salisbury, D-Westbrook; Foley; Linda Anderson of Greater Portland Family Promise; Denise Quint of Prides Corner Congregational Church; and Pasteur Samuel Luzingu of Rhema Christian Church Ministries in Westbrook.

The Rev. Leslie Foley, pastor of Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church, says the magnitude of a homeless crisis developing in Westbrook can be equated to that of a war zone.

“We can help, but we can’t fix it. It’s overwhelming,” Foley said Tuesday at a meeting of the new Westbrook Community Housing Coalition.

The coalition of citizens, clergy and city officials is gearing up to assist an escalating number of renters and unhoused people, including asylum seekers, who are expected to seek help in Westbrook when funding for the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program runs out Jan. 1. The program was implemented during the pandemic to help struggling Americans meet rent and utility costs, and it also funded many asylum seekers’ hotel stays in the area. The program has served more than 34,000 households in Maine, according to Portland Press Herald reports.

Pastor Scott Linscott of First Baptist Church of Westbrook says churches will do what they can, but “we’re not megachurches.” Robert Lowell / American Journal

Westbrook has 218 households who depended on the rental help under the program and most are in trouble, said Harrison Deah, director of Westbrook’s general assistance and social services. He has already heard from tenants who are about to be evicted.

Some might be eligible for general assistance, he said, but “it’s a huge problem” because there is no affordable housing available.

Combined with the surge of asylum seekers who have been sheltered at hotels in South Portland, Scarborough and elsewhere, Westbrook could see between 700 and 800 people with no place to go and very little means during the coldest months of the year, according to Pastor Scott Linscott of First Baptist Church of Westbrook.


Asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the U.S. until six months after they have filed for asylum.

Many of the asylum-seekers attend worship services in Westbrook churches. Westbrook-Warren has a group meeting there from Uganda, and Pastor Jacques Ngaliema works with a group from Angola, Congo, the Ivory Coast and Columbia that meets at First Baptist Church.

Local churches will help as much as they can, Linscott said, but “we’re not mega-churches.”

The coalition is focusing on three areas: immediate housing, advocacy and community engagement.

To immediately shelter those in need, staffing, security, shower facilities and food service are needed, Linscott said.

“It would take (an official) state of emergency to pull it off in our church,” he said.


From left, the Rev. Leslie Foley, pastor at Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church; Jacques Ngaliema, pastor of an asylum seekers group; and Darlene Varian of Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Westbrook Mayor Michael Foley said he would consider making an emergency declaration if a church is willing to host a shelter with appropriate staffing.

“We could work with code enforcement to develop some temporary regulations to help, but at this point, I am not aware of any churches who have stepped forward,” he said in an email to the American Journal.

“We know single communities can’t solve this problem alone, and a regional solution is required for a regional problem,” the mayor said.

Deah said the housing and homeless crisis is widespread and the state needs to get involved. Linscott hopes the Legislature will pass emergency funding as a stop gap measure to give churches more time to prepare.

“We’ve got three weeks until the money runs out,” Linscott said.

Meanwhile, he and Rep. Sue Salisbury, D-Westbrook, will host a free breakfast for the unhoused from 8-9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17, at First Baptist Church, 733 Main St., to hear what they’d like to see if the church were to set up a daytime warming center.


Rev. Foley with Westbrook-Warren Congregational plans to meet with Greater Portland Family Promise, a nonprofit that assists homeless families, and then report back to the Westbrook coalition.

The coalition grew out of a series of recent meetings hosted by One Westbrook, a citizens group facilitated by Liz Eisele McLellan and Amanda Atkinson-Lewis.

In addition to the 218 households that will be impacted by the cutoff in federal funding, some people in Westbrook are living in vehicles, 85 Westbrook students are housing-insecure and some families are even living outside, the group was told.

“We have done a lot of learning together,” Atkinson-Lewis said last week.

McLellan and City Councilor Jen Munro are co-chairing the newly formed coalition. The next meeting will be held from 1-2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 13, at First Baptist Church of Westbrook.

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