AUGUSTA — Just because Augusta doesn’t allow camping on city property, and officials have expressed concerns about a proposal to provide a public space for  homeless people to camp, doesn’t mean private landowners can’t offer up their own property as a campsite to help someone with no place else to stay.

That was the big takeaway from an informational City Council meeting last week.

As officials continue to grapple with how to help the roughly 20 people who, for various reasons, haven’t found a spot in a local homeless shelter or elsewhere, they note that private property owners are free to host homeless campers.

An emergency overnight warming center was open from November through April.

The city could consider altering its existing land use ordinance, which allows property-owners to host someone camping in a recreational vehicle or tent for up to 120 consecutive days. Leaders could extend the 120-day limit to cover the entire time period the local winter shelter will be closed. In addition, regulations could be adjusted to address sanitation concerns stemming from longer-term campers and the human waste and garbage they could create.

City staff also plan to look into ways the city could help match homeless people in need with property owners willing to host them on their land.


But for now, city staff told councilors there is nothing in city ordinance that prevents private landowners from offering a campsite on their land to a homeless person, as long as they don’t stay for more than 120 straight days.

City officials, advocates and service providers are looking for ways to help homeless people, many of whom had been spending their nights at the Augusta Emergency Overnight Warming Center, until it closed for the season May 1.

Last month, just before the winter overnight shelter closed for the season, city councilors debated a proposal from Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins for the city to temporarily provide a place where homeless people could camp for the summer. They were unable to reach a consensus.

Advocates say that left many homeless people without a place to go.

“I left the last meeting disappointed that no solutions were found,” said Betty St. Hilaire, who works as a community health and social worker in Augusta. Though she is chairwoman of an advisory committee to the overnight warming center at South Parish Congregational Church, she noted she was not speaking for the center when addressing councilors May 11.

“I understand there are differing opinions on how the situation should be handled. But I’m very concerned about the folks living outside,” St. Hilaire said. “Just because it’s not winter doesn’t mean the weather doesn’t affect people.”


Earl Kingsbury, community services director, and Victoria Abbott, executive director of Bread of Life Ministries, told city councilors about 35 people who had been spending nights at the now-closed overnight center, are being helped with housing or other resources, including from the city’s General Assistance program, beds at Bread of Life’s family shelter and rooms at the Edwards Inn boarding house.

Abbott said Bread of Life Ministry, which operates shelters for homeless families and veterans as well as a soup kitchen in Augusta, currently has beds available in its family shelter.

She added they are under contract with a builder to create a new 18-bed low-barrier homeless shelter in Augusta that could be ready to open in about three months. Low-barrier shelters generally take in people with criminal records, who use drugs or alcohol, or who are convicted sex offenders, backgrounds which could make them ineligible to stay at Bread of Life’s family shelter.

City Manager Susan Robertson said officials are trying to find a way to provide homeless people with a place to stay, even if it’s just in a tent, until the overnight shelter reopens or the new low-barrier shelter is ready.

Officials noted there are at least 20 homeless people sleeping outside who either don’t qualify to stay at the family shelter or who, sometimes due to mental illness or substance use, don’t want to stay in a shelter setting.

At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen said she supports the idea of allowing homeless people to camp out in the city but said tents aren’t really a solution. She suggested the city seek to rehire the staff who oversaw the overnight warming center at South Parish church to provide overnight housing there this summer, too.

Robertson said officials considered that but noted the church property isn’t really an option this summer as extensive renovations are expected to take place to address safety code concerns with the building. She said officials are not aware of other facilities that could be used to house homeless people this summer.

Matt Nazar, development director, said homeless people camping on private property could create problems with sanitation if they leave garbage at their sites and don’t have a place to go to the bathroom. He said if councilors wish, staff could draft language that could be added to the city ordinance to ensure campsites are kept sanitary.

He said the city’s land-use ordinance was changed five or six years ago to allow some camping on private property. He said the intent was to allow friends or relatives to stay in a tent or camper on a resident’s property while visiting. He said in that scenario the people camping would likely use the bathroom of the property owner hosting them. He said some people allowing homeless people to camp on their property may not want to allow those campers to come into their homes to use their bathrooms, so sanitation could become a concern.

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