Portland Director of Health and Human Services Kristen Dow and Fire Chief Keith Gautreau joined the City Council during its Wednesday meeting to provide an update on the clean up of the Fore River Parkway encampment earlier that day.
The city’s Encampment Crisis Response Team (ECRT) has been working to move individuals from the Fore River encampment into shelters ahead of Wednesday’s deadline since June, moving 18 of the almost 100 homeless individuals living in the encampment into housing.
August saw the greatest increase in new tents observed in Portland — 78 — according to the city’s Unhoused Community Dashboard.
“I had hoped to have more success,” Dow said, detailing the process of offering homeless individuals beds in the city’s Homeless Services Center and holding multiple housing fairs at the encampment.
Dow added that the ECRT will be writing a debriefing report on the resolution process of the Fore River Encampment, which they will use to inform how they approach their efforts on resolving the Marginal Way Park and Ride encampment, a process set to begin Sept. 18.
Some campers told WGME that they had not received an offer from the city on beds in the Homeless Services Center.
“It’s been full as far as I know,” Bruce Cavallaro, a homeless veteran, told WGME.
“They kind of, I think, assume everybody out here does drugs, which isn’t true. Most people have jobs, but the rent’s too inflated,” another camper, Devi Sewall, told the outlet.
“They call it sweeping. Like sweeping people up like they’re trash,” Sewall said.
Some city syringe exchange program staff have been redirected into housing outreach to help address the concerns of homeless individuals who are reluctant to accept a bed in a shelter setting, Dow said Wednesday.
City Councilors Victoria Pelletier, April Fournier, and Anna Trevorrow issued a joint statement Tuesday urging the city to postpone the clean out of the Fore River encampment by one month.
“This feels like an unfinished conversation with many unknowns and moving forward with the September 6 encampment sweep is going to create greater chaos, harm, and cost our city and will again retraumatize our unhoused neighbors who deserve a safer place to live,” their statement said.
The local nonprofit Preble Street, which operates a large homeless shelter in Portland, also called for a postponement of the Sept. 6 encampment sweep at the end of August.
“The unprecedented homelessness that we see today is a result of the systems and structures that exist throughout society,” Preble Street wrote. “Intergenerational poverty and health and wealth disparities; structural racism & the continued impact of White Supremacy; gentrification; a lack of investment into social services; and the lingering impacts from COVID-19 are just a few of the causes.”
“I have to report, I think you’re doing good work, but our constituents are not seeing that result, they’re seeing an entirely different picture,” Councilor Mark Dion told Dow Wednesday, asking what the ECRT’s plan is to deal with homeless individuals who are resistant to accepting housing placements.
“I mean, we can’t keep moving forward with 18 to 20 placements over a three-month period, if that’s what you’re reporting,” Dion said. “I think the public is going to lose patience.”
The ECRT is under pressure to shift their focus to the encampment at the Marginal Way Park and Ride, where business owners are frustrated with the lack of assistance from the city on cleaning up human excrement, needles, weapons, and significant safety concerns.
One business owner recently found a “zombie slasher” machete on the store premises opposite the Park and Ride. In July, another nearby business reported finding a loaded shotgun.
Last week, the Maine Department of Transportation cleared an encampment next to I-295 near Deering Oaks Park for safety reasons — the Park and Ride encampment also sits next to I-295, on state property.
Dow said that the ECRT has been in communication with the state on the Park and Ride encampment, to discuss what steps the city will be able to take on the state-owned property to resolve the encampment.
The city has told Marginal Way business owners that they are unable to allocate funds to assist in the clean up of human excrement left on the private property of the businesses opposite the Park and Ride.
In response to concerns that the city was not taking public comment on the issue of encampments, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder announced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting that the city would be holding a workshop on encampments on Sept. 14, in the council chambers at 5 p.m.