BIDDEFORD — The city council voted 5-2 to engage a consultant to assist with formulating policy and other tasks so Biddeford can maximize impact and delivery of services for people who are homeless.

Not everyone was on board, and at least one city councilor said he had mixed feelings on the matter.

“I’m on the fence,” said Councilor Scott Whiting, in part at the March 7 meeting. “This could easily turn into analysis paralysis. … I feel the need to almost channel (former Councilor) Amy Clearwater here and ask why we’re not taking action.”

Some in the audience noted a group has been meeting regularly on homeless matters and gathering information for some time. Biddeford Housing Authority Director Guy Gagnon suggested the city approach that group for a report. “This has been studied,” he said. Cat Bates of the Citizens Advisory Committee agreed, noting Gagnon’s suggestion would save time and money.

City Manager Jim Bennett had asked the council to authorize up to $20,000 to hire a consultant. He noted the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Task Force report had recommended, in part, that the city adopt a comprehensive unhoused policy that includes services and that they seek any technical services the city might need to do so.

Bennett said the city needs someone who can look at the existing information, examine what may be possible, put the information together, and be objective about it.


“We found it difficult to address the unhoused issue,” said Councilor Doris Ortiz, who chaired the affordable housing task force. “Our recommendation was to hire a specialist because our city staff is running on fumes at this point.”

Council President Norman Belanger said he shared some of Whiting’s concerns. “I don’t want another study,” said Belanger.” … I want policies and procedure and costs. I’m not looking for another study. I’m looking for possible solutions.”

Bennett expressed frustration.

“… this body is the deliberative body to make a decision about what we need to do, where to spend the resources, and how go about doing it,” Bennett told the council. “I don’t think anyone should be really nervous about bringing in a professional person to help the council make a decision in full lights of the camera .. and where everybody understands what is going on … if that makes you nervous, I guess you ought to be concerned about what you’re doing and what your motives are. I want to have somebody help us do that so you can have factual information to make good decisions to help tackle what is probably the most difficult issue a local elected body in the state of Maine can handle, because of a lack of federal guidance and because of lack of state willingness to tackle this issue. …”

Councilor Bob Mills said he was not looking to cause offense, but said he sees hiring a consultant as a delaying tactic.

“I don’t see hiring a qualified consultant as being a resolution to anything we’ve been talking about for the last year and a half, since I’ve been back on the council,” Mills said. “This problem has been going on for quite some time. Groups have been meeting that have the solutions and I think we can reach out to those groups and have the answers in less than six weeks.”


Councilor Julian Schlaver said he would support a consultant with a specific goal of producing actions the city can take within the next six months.

Ortiz said she did not see the consultant requests as a delaying tactic and noted a consultant would take ideas and craft policy.

“This is to help us get the solutions and do the work,” said Ortiz. “I support it. Let’s take a stand on the unhoused and do something. I understand the concerns.”

Policies a consultant produced would be voted on by the city council.

Mayor Alan Casavant said the current staff is overwhelmed with various issues and doesn’t have the time our other resources to produce policies necessary to implement a housing plan.

“Putting this on their plate would be problematic,” said Casavant. “It is important all of us have clear information and clear policy … historically Biddeford has never had to deal with housing before — it is always streets, lights and sidewalks. Statewide everyone is having the same issue … cities dealing with it aren’t doing so successfully because it is so complex.”

The vote was 5-2, with councilors Whiting and Mills opposed.

The number of people who are homeless in Biddeford varies from day to day, city officials said. The Point in Time survey of unhoused people taken annually each January across the country has been in the 20 to 25 people range in Biddeford for the last couple of years, said city spokeswoman Danica Lamontagne. People who stay in emergency shelters are counted for the annual survey through Maine’s Homeless Management System, according to MaineHousing. Those who are not sheltered are counted at a central location in many communities — in Biddeford that has been around Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center —  where they are encouraged to self-report.

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