Donald Lynch, assistant director of Families and Children Together, wants to turn the house behind him into a two-family emergency shelter. Credit: Alex Acquisto

The Planning Board approved a rezoning request Tuesday night that allows a residential home at the corner of Elm and Somerset streets to be used as a two-family emergency shelter.

Approval was unanimous to repurpose the five-bedroom house at 114 Somerset St., which is owned by the applicant, Families and Children Together, a local social services organization that connects families struggling with homelessness to resources.

The City Council will have final say over the 114 Somerset St. proposal at its Monday, Aug. 27, meeting.

Citing a growing need in a city that has lacked a family shelter for 13 years, the organization has been searching since the winter for a suitable family shelter location.

“This is an issue in Bangor,” Families and Children Together Assistant Director Donald Lynch told the Planning Board. “Our goal is to provide short-term, safe housing while we work with them to find permanent housing.”

Homelessness is stressful enough on its own, and that stress is exacerbated if a struggling family is forced to leave their community or chooses to split up as a last resort, “which typically happens with families in this region,” he said.

“If we’re able to help a family stay connected to the resources in their community … that’s only going to help create less trauma for that family and those children,” Lynch said. Mitigating trauma early on, particularly for children, decreases the chances that they will carry that trauma into adulthood, he said.

Bangor’s last family shelter closed in 2005, and while there are a handful of local shelter options — mostly for adults — the closest family shelter is in Ellsworth. When families approach the Bangor Area Shelter in need, as they do a few times each month, they’re referred to Ellsworth, or family shelters in Augusta or Presque Isle, shelter Executive Director Boyd Kronholm said Tuesday, speaking in favor of the proposal.

A handful of other residents, including Rev. Frank Murray, pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, urged the board to approve the proposal.

No project opponents attended the meeting, but Planning Officer David Gould said he’d been contacted by a few who worried the family shelter would detract from the quality of the neighborhood.

“Bangor should be working to try and keep good, family-oriented neighborhoods,” Elaine Doyle, who lives nearby on Parkview Avenue, wrote in a letter that Gould read aloud at the meeting.

Doyle said she feels “grave concern” that “rezoning just opens the door to many issues that will be detrimental to the development of Bangor as a desirable city.”

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