The Maine Department of Transportation (Maine DOT) reportedly plans to shut down a portion of the Park and Ride on Marginal Way due to the presence of a homeless encampment, according to WGME.
Signs posted at the Park and Ride indicate that half the lot will be closed starting this Thursday. The report revealed that those living in the camp were told to move to the side of the lot near Franklin street by Thursday.
The Maine DOT told WGME that 84 parking spaces will continue to be reserved exclusively for traditional park-and-ride uses, while the other 84 parking spaces will temporarily be unavailable. Concerns remain about whether drivers will feel safe leaving their cars in the area.
Back in May, city officials closed down a substantial encampment on the Bayside Trail between Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, reportedly leaving those who had been camping there with no place to go, as Portland’s shelters were already at capacity.
Given that the encampment in the Park and Ride only began to form after the closure of the Bayside camp, it is likely that those who had been displaced from Bayside by the City of Portland relocated to the state-owned parking lot shortly thereafter.
A statement from the Maine Department of Transportation provided to WGME read, in part: “On August 3rd, we will be temporarily dividing the Marginal Way park-and-ride facility into two areas to accommodate the competing uses We have notified the City of Portland of this plan. Notification of park-and-ride users began on Thursday. Closure of the lot on August 3rd will be necessary to make these modifications. Additionally, Maine DOT, in coordination with Maine State Police, will continue to monitor and clear the state-owned land along I-295 in order to preserve public safety.”
Portland’s existing homeless shelter services have been greatly strained by the arrival this year of more than 1,600 “asylum seekers,” primarily coming from countries located in Africa.
The need to care for these asylum seekers has resulted in less shelter space for Maine’s pre-existing homeless population, a crisis which had already been exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing and an opioid addiction epidemic.
In July, the City of Portland launched Project HOME, a program wherein “landlords and homeowners who are willing to provide a bedroom, entire home, apartment, short-term rental, or Accessory Dwelling Unit” to those seeking housing would be given “guaranteed rent, year-long housing support, and a financial guarantee through Project HOME, a program of the Quality Housing Coalition.”
Although the program appears to be open to all people “who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing homelessness,” the timing of the program’s announcement, as well as the City’s direct reference to the 2019 Host Home’s program in their press release, is suggestive that Project HOME is geared primarily toward housing asylum seekers.
City of Portland officials recently met behind closed doors for a second time with some of the asylum seekers who have been living in the Portland Expo for the past several months. Chief among the asylum seekers’ concerns during this meeting was the uncertainty of the City’s plan for housing them after the Expo closes in August.
Concerning Portland’s homeless population, city officials announced in mid-July that they planned to have the Fore River Parkway homeless encampment cleaned up by the beginning of September. According to Portland Health and Human Services Director Kristen Dow, all those living in the encampment will be offered “some form of shelter or housing” before the encampment is closed for good, although no specifics were provided.
At that time, no mention was made of the encampment at the Marginal Way Park and Ride. It remains to be seen if and how the City plans to address this and other homeless encampments located throughout Portland.