Port City Flooring, a business directly across from one of the city’s largest homeless encampments at the Maine Department of Transportation Park and Ride, was put on lockdown Wednesday after a man high on drugs entered the store fearing that someone was trying to stab him.
In an email sent Friday to Portland city officials and Maine State Legislators, Port City Flooring Vice-President Anna McCoy told the terrifying story of what it is like operating a business across from a homeless encampment and open air drug market.
“We had a terrifying incident at our store on Wednesday,” McCoy wrote in her email. “While we had a school teacher select a complimentary storytime rug for her East End classroom, a man came into the store, extremely high on drugs, worried that someone was trying to stab him.”
“At first, it appeared that he might have a weapon,” McCoy added.
“We hid the school teacher in an office, while our manager called 911 for help and my business partner, Liam, tried to entice the man to stay in the front of the store by talking to him and trying to de-escalate the situation,” she continued.
“As it turns out, the man traveled to the Park and Go lot to buy drugs, and shoot up there,” she wrote. “It was a relapse after four months off the drugs. It hit him hard, terrified all of us, including the teacher in our store.”
“We observe the manufacture, sale, and distribution of drugs from the tent section that also houses stolen bikes–on a daily basis. We are hearing from officers who patrol this area – that this lot is now known as an open air drug market where you can deal and use with impunity,” McCoy wrote.
“This de facto policy is not effective in keeping our community safe,” she added.
McCoy then told the story of another incident Thursday night, when she encountered an “unhoused and addicted resident of lot” who jumped out behind her car as she was leaving the store.
“Indeed just last night, as I was leaving, an unhoused and addicted resident of the lot was extremely high and as I put the car in reverse, he sprung out of nowhere, wildly dancing, unhinged with a used needle in his hand. Had someone been walking past him, they could have accidentally been stuck with the needle,” she wrote.
McCoy then made a plea to city officials for help and to find a working solution to the encampment crisis.
“We are asking for help,” she wrote. “Our customers and staff are at risk. We want to stay in business. We want to provide jobs. We want to make our business loan payments and continue to invest in the community. Those efforts are in jeopardy.”
She proceeded to invite the city officials to visit the store for a day to get a direct view of the encampment.
“We need to back to the drawing board to find a solution. The stakes are high for everyone involved,” she concluded her email.
At an Aug. 14 City Council meeting, Portland Department of Health and Human Services Director Kristen Dow said that there is a total of 228 tents citywide.
While the city’s Encampment Crisis Response Team (ECRT) is aware of the Park and Ride encampment, it is currently focusing its efforts on moving individuals from the city’s largest encampment along the Fore River Parkway trail into housing before the city plans to clean out the encampment on Sept. 6.
Dow told the City Council that as of Aug. 14, there had been a total of 12 housing placements from the Fore River encampment, which at the time of the meeting had 54 tents and 52 homeless individuals.
After Sept. 6, Dow said that the ECRT will move its focus to the Marginal Way Park and Ride Lot encampment.
The city has been doing daily trash removal at the Park and Ride encampment, and has a designated area for the homeless individuals to put their trash.
Port City Flooring is not the only business near the Park and Ride encampment that has been struggling with the city’s approach to the homelessness crisis.
On Friday, another local business owner sent an email to city officials asking them to remove the trash pile, which had grown and spilled over the fence.
In another Friday email, a business owner told city officials that “compassion is a two way street.”
“There is a delicate balance between compassion and callousness, and these two sentiments can sometimes shift from one to the other,” the business owner wrote.
“For instance, permitting homeless individuals to reside in encampments while offering them sustenance, water, and tents might appear compassionate. However, upon witnessing the actual conditions that such tolerance fosters, it becomes evident that it lacks true compassion,” they wrote.
“Instead, it manifests as cruel and degrading, subjecting these unfortunate individuals to live in squalor, lawlessness, and fear. They essentially live in a rat-infested cesspool. Is this truly an act of compassion?” they added.
The business owner went to to address the city’s “lax enforcement of drug laws,” and questioned whether this approach was compassionate, or “inherently cruel.”
“It could be argued that permitting addicted individuals to continue using highly toxic and often tainted substances endangers their lives,” the business owner continued. “They become vulnerable to fatal overdoses, a tragedy that has already struck numerous times. Additionally, their impaired state under the influence of these substances puts them at risk, as they wander aimlessly, even stepping into busy traffic.”
The email also addressed the large amount of bicycles at the Marginal Way encampment, a large proportion of which are likely stolen, and the distribution of clean needles to the homeless individuals, which are discarded and become a biohazard to others.
“It’s essential to reflect on whether compassion should be a two-way street. The sober, tax-paying population of Portland and its neighboring communities undoubtedly deserves compassion just as much as the homeless population,” the business owner wrote.
“Taking responsibility for allowing the homeless crisis to persist should include safeguarding the broader community from the repercussions. This, in essence, would exemplify genuine compassion in action,” the email concluded.
“We have been in communication with those business owners who have reached out to us,” Portland Spokesperson Jessica Grondin wrote in email statement to the Maine Wire. “DPW does continue to provide regular trash removal at the park and ride lot, and our community partner outreach teams do continue to work with unhoused individuals at all encampments even though their primary focus is on Fore River right now. “
“Officers remain committed to public safety, and will respond as quickly as possible to both emergency and non-emergency calls for service. How officers respond to certain offenses committed by unhoused individuals is guided by the Department’s Homeless Crisis Protocol, the creation of which was required by the State Legislature,” Grondin wrote.
UPDATE: This story was updated to include a statement from Portland Spokesperson Jessica Grondin