Joshua Lukens, 24, left, and his fiancee, Tessa, 23, use an eight-person tent last month to shelter themselves and their belongings along the Kennebec River near Head of Falls in Waterville. Lukens says he has been homeless for about five months. The city has been considering a plan to set up 10 yurts in the area to shelter homeless people during winter, but might abandon the plan for other options. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — The City Council on Wednesday might consider ditching a request by Mayor Jay Coelho to erect yurts for homeless people on the riverfront and instead pursue other assistance, including setting up a temporary warming shelter during harsh weather and ensuring the homeless receive more regular outreach from service providers.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at 46 Front St.

At the council’s meeting Oct. 17, Coelho asked councilors to approve spending up to $10,000 for 10 yurts, or sturdy canvas tents, to house homeless people now living at Head of Falls, along the Kennebec River. The council delayed a decision on the request until city officials and others could meet to discuss the matter.

Coelho said Monday he introduced the yurt idea to get people talking about the homeless crisis, but he plans to encourage councilors to abandon the yurt request and explore finding an organization that can provide outreach two or three times a week to help homeless people get services and find jobs.

“I’m going to encourage them to do so,” Coelho said. “It really is something that a private organization has to do, and not the city.”

Wednesday’s agenda asks councilors if they will vote to adopt an “unhoused winter season recommendation plan” to help  homeless people and provide safe and secure housing throughout the year. The plan, submitted by police Chief William Bonney, fire Chief Shawn Esler and the city administration, says they and others met Oct. 31 to discuss the yurt proposal and all agreed the city should adopt a more comprehensive plan.


The plan’s recommendations include extending hours of the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, especially between noon and 8 p.m.; getting other municipalities involved in developing a long-term plan, as homelessness is a regional issue; continuing to rely on the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter to provide a frontline warming center for homeless people; and developing a plan with public safety and the homeless shelter to handle unhoused people who do not receive services.

The plan also recommends using 46 Front St., the new City Council chamber building, as a temporary emergency shelter only during serious weather-related emergencies, and developing a policy designating when the shelter would open and close. The plan calls for training community members in emergency shelter operations, with homeless shelter officials providing the training.

The recommendations also include exploring options through the homeless shelter to provide outreach services intended to locate sustainable housing, and engaging with community partners and philanthropic groups to identify funding outside of taxation.

The plan also recommends the city consider helping to fund the soup kitchen, and says officials will bring forward a request to design an emergency and disaster shelter that would include a public safety substation.

“An emergency shelter has been identified as a need for community risk reduction,” according to the plan. “A design will allow us to compete for federal funding to construct such a facility.”

Coelho said Monday a sanctioned homeless encampment is never going to work because it would pose a liability to the city. Although many people think many of those who live in tents are addicted to drugs, that is not the case, according to Coelho.

“They’re not all drug addicts,” he said. “These people deserve some dignity. They need some help. A lot of them have jobs.”

At the Oct. 17 council meeting, advocates for those struggling with food and housing issues urged councilors to help fund the soup kitchen and the Winslow Community Food Cupboard, which they said are struggling financially to help feed an increasing number of people.

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