Portland’s now-largest homeless encampment at the Marginal Way Park and Ride has approximately doubled in size since August, with a total of 77 tents according to the city’s Unhoused Community Dashboard.
There have also been 91 new tents observed in Portland in September, for a total of 239 tents citywide, according to the dashboard.
This weekend the rapidly growing Park and Ride encampment will have to face the high-speed winds and flooding which will come with the arrival of Hurricane Lee Friday night.
On Thursday, Gov. Janet Mills declared a State of Emergency over the impending landfall of the hurricane, and requested a preemptive Disaster Declaration from President Biden — a request which has since been approved.
The reason for the increase in population at the Park and Ride encampment is the recent clean up the city’s Encampment Crisis Response Team (ECRT) conducted at the Fore River Parkway encampment last Wednesday.
The ECRT was only able to move 18 of the almost 100 homeless individuals from the Fore River encampment into housing before they shut it down and forced the homeless to move to another area on Sept. 6.
On Sept. 18, the ECRT will begin focusing its efforts on moving the Park and Ride encampment residents into housing before an eventual sweep.
It appears that many of the residents of the Fore River encampment have since set up their tents on State of Maine property in the Park and Ride.
Many of the tents in the Park and Ride encampment sit on the concrete parking lot and are not staked into the ground, and could be at risk of blowing away into the street or onto nearby I-295 in the high winds.
The same goes for the piles of trash and hypodermic needles which litter the encampment, and could also be washed away by the flood waters — exacerbating an already disastrous public health crisis.
The City of Portland issued an alert Friday morning telling residents to prepare for “high wind, significant rain, rough seas and pounding surf, and coastal flooding.”
“Given the strong winds forecasted, people should remove objects in their yard that could become airborne, such as yard decorations and garbage cans on decks and porches,” the city alert states.
The city in opening the First Parish Church on Congress St. in Portland as a warming shelter for the homeless from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday.
“The decision to set up, location of, and population served is solely at the discretion of local emergency management agencies and municipal officials,” Vanessa Corson, MEMA Public Information Officer, wrote in an email to the Maine Wire.
“In many communities, the General Assistance or Human Services offices coordinate resources to support the needs of the Homeless or Unhoused Individuals and Families in partnership with Homeless and Wellness Shelters,” Corson wrote.
The Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) will be post to their website if more emergency shelters open in response to Hurricane Lee in other Maine counties.
Bruce Cavallaro, a veteran who said he has been living in the Park and Ride encampment since it formed, said that its residents have planned a protest at Portland City Hall for Friday evening.
According to Cavallaro, the protest will be in response to the ECRT’s policies which have resulted in the homeless having to move from place to place without adequate shelter.
The protest, entitled “Stop the Sweeps Solidarity Protest,” is being sponsored by several local and state nonprofit organizations, including Maine People’s Alliance, Preble Street, Maine Youth for Climate Justice, Maine Trans Net, the Church of Safe Injection, and the Maine Democratic Socialists of America.
Cavallaro has taken the initiative to set up Narcan depositories in central locations throughout the encampment, and works to pick up trash to try to keep the camp clean.
He said that drama and fighting have gotten worse in the encampment since its population grew with the new arrivals from Fore River Parkway.
In recent weeks, Marginal Way business owners have discovered weapons on their property, including a large machete and a loaded shotgun.
Just this week a man was photographed in the parking lot wielding an axe.
When asked if the encampment was prepared for the hurricane, Cavallaro said that city officials have not reached out, but that he knew of the emergency shelter Portland’s First Parish Church.
In an emailed statement to the Maine Wire, Portland spokesperson Jessica Grondin said that the city “worked in coordination with community partners over the last several days and are glad that First Parish is able to open a warming shelter tomorrow from 7am-7pm.”
Grondin said that outreach workers are spreading the word to those in the encampments so that they are aware of the storm and the opening of the warming shelter.
“We are aware of the protest at city hall today at 4:30 pm – but do not yet know of any specific demands,” Grondin said. “As you know, we do not arbitrarily sweep encampments – we follow our administrative policies and as of late, the ECRT comprehensive model to resolve encampments.”
Marginal Way businesses have been burdened by the presence of the Park and Ride encampment, and have been told by the city that they will not receive any help for cleaning up needles or human excrement on their properties.
Port City Flooring, a business directly across from the Park and Ride, was put on lockdown in late August when a man high on drugs fleeing from someone he was worried was trying to stab him entered the store.
In emails to city and state officials, business owners have begged for the city to do more to address the crisis, with one saying that the city’s compassion when it comes to the homeless population is “cruel and degrading,” and subjects them to live in “squalor, lawlessness, and fear.”