The ACLU of Maine joined the Communist Party for Socialism and Liberation and other advocacy groups Tuesday to urge the Portland City Council to end its policy of encampment sweeps and to testify against their proposed expansion of the city’s Homeless Services Center (HSC).
The Maine ACLU joined protesters outside Portland City Hall before a scheduled workshop on the City Council’s proposal to use an emergency declaration to relax city building ordinances in order to add 150 bunk beds to the HSC, at a cost of over $130,000.
Tuesday’s protest came within two weeks of another “Stop the Sweeps” protest on Sept. 15, in which speakers called for city officials to allow the homeless encampments to remain until more permanent housing solutions are available.
The encampments have become open-air drug markets where narcotics are sold and used while police turn a blind eye.
Portland’s Encampment Crisis Response Team (ECRT) began its policy of cleaning out the city’s homeless encampments this spring, with a large encampment on the Bayside Trail.
On Sept. 6, the ECRT swept the Fore River Parkway encampment, after spending more than $65,000 on outreach to the homeless living in the encampment to try to get them into housing.
The ECRT’s efforts resulted in housing placements for only 18 of the almost 100 individuals living in the encampment.
“The order facilitates the city’s increasing sweeps, which are inherently racist, government-sanctioned violence against certain Portland residents simply because they cannot afford housing,” ACLU of Maine Legal Fellow Heather Zimmerman said in remarks to the City Council Tuesday.
“In addition to threatening residents’ constitutional rights, seizing and destroying property risks the loss of life-saving items, such as tents, sleeping bags, medicine, and legal and medical records – not to mention personal mementos that one may consider treasure, but the government considers trash,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman demanded that the City Council “immediately stop the sweeps and criminalization of homelessness,” and for the Department of Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee to propose “compassionate and evidence-based policy solutions.”
The ACLU says that the proposed order punishes and criminalizes “unhoused residents” for “engaging in life-sustaining activities.”
The Maine Wire has documented how Portland’s encampments have become open air drug markets, and how the homeless have terrorized local business owners with discarded needles, machetes, and loaded weapons.