Westbrook city councilors pictured, from left, are Michael Shaughnessy, Victor Chau, council President and Acting Mayor David Morse, Vice President Anna Turcotte, Gary Rairdon and Jennifer Munro. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Westbrook is taking a step to help alleviate homelessness for individuals, families and students in the community.

The City Council Monday, in a second reading, unanimously voted 7-0 approving an ordinance amendment allowing private homes and churches to be licensed as small emergency shelters for the unhoused. City Planner Jennie Franceschi said emergency shelters will be allowed wherever single-family homes and duplexes are permitted throughout the city.

City Councilor Jennifer Munro made the motion, seconded by Council Vice President Anna Turcotte.

City Councilor Michael Shaughnessy praised the ordinance amendment. “This makes me proud of Westbrook,” he said.

Buildings utilized as emergency shelters will require city inspections to verify code compliance, but will not require hiring additional city hall staff. “It will blend into our normal commercial inspection operation,” Franceschi told councilors.

Munro, also co-chair of the Westbrook Community Housing Coalition, brought the issue forward to city leaders. Westbrook schools opened last September with 106 unhoused students, up from 45 the previous year, she said.


Currently 85 students are homeless, according to Emma Lombardo, a school department employee, and as many as 182 have been homeless during the school year.

Munro and other officials shared examples of poor conditions students have experienced. Munro cited the case of an elementary school girl and her father who slept outside in March with nothing but a backpack. She said other kids are sleeping in cars. Lombardo spoke about a girl with bed bug bites all over her body. Katie Garrity, a city school social worker and homelessness liaison, said an elementary student was living under a tent with his mother and a baby just 2 weeks old, and a middle school student lived in a camper without heat or water throughout the winter.

Some students take showers at school because they don’t have water available, Garrity said. Some students don’t have any idea where they are going “when the bell rings at the end of the day. And we wonder why they’re having a hard day at school.”

City Councilor Claude Rwaganje said it was about time that Westbrook responded. “We’re doing this to help the community – neighbor helping neighbor,” he said.

The ordinance does not permit large emergency shelters.

Andrew Broaddus, an attorney in Westbrook, applauded Franceschi and the Planning Board for their work in developing an amendment to help. He said Westbrook doesn’t want city-owned shelters. “We’re not Portland. We’re Westbrook. We are going to do it our way.”

Liz Eisele McLellan, a community housing coalition co-chair with Munro, hopes that other communities will learn from the council’s action. “Westbrook is doing something pretty powerful in taking a proactive, thoughtful approach to supporting and building the future of the city,” McLellan said.

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