Residents of Portland’s largest homeless encampment at the Marginal Way Park and Ride lot now have less than a month to leave, after the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) set a Nov. 1 date to sweep the encampment on Wednesday.
In August, the MaineDOT separated half of the Park and Ride with a concrete barrier to temporarily designate half of the lot exclusively for the rapidly growing homeless encampment.
The Park and Ride encampment has almost doubled in size to approximately 90 tents since the city’s Encampment Crisis Response Team (ECRT) cleaned out another large encampment by the Fore River Parkway in early September.
Businesses across from the encampment have been pleading with city and state officials for months to address their safety and health concerns, due to discarded hypodermic needles, weapons, trash, and human excrement being left on their property.
“Today, MaineDOT is establishing a November 1 deadline to provide an additional four weeks for unhoused individuals to prepare for the lot’s restoration,” the DOT said in a statement to WGME. “Establishing the November 1 deadline also prevents the disruption of unhoused individuals during the winter months and allows MaineDOT to prepare for its winter maintenance responsibilities at the lot.”
“MaineDOT has coordinated with the City of Portland to implement the restoration,” the statement continued. “The city and other service providers will continue to work with unhoused individuals to provide offers of housing or shelter as November 1 approaches.”
“On November 1, MaineDOT will work with the Maine Department of Public Safety to safely and respectfully remove any remaining camps,” the statement concluded.
Gov. Janet Mills visited Portland Wednesday to speak about homelessness and the state’s affordable housing crisis.
Gov. Mills told WGME that the city is offering people services and housing, but many have declined.
“What we’ve done is provide money for wrap-around services as well as shelters and housing to make sure people are protected and safe,” Mills told the outlet. “But also look, if it’s a long-term substance abuse issue, substance use disorder, if it’s mental health issues, we want to get them the help they need.”
Mills declined to tell CBS13 if she was going to visit an encampment, but Portland Police Chief Mark Dubois said that she had a “first-hand” look at one of the encampments alongside police earlier on Wednesday.
“She came down here to take a look first-hand for herself earlier today, so you know, I’m very hopeful that that is helpful,” Dubois said. “I think it is. I think it makes a significant impact when you walk around down here and you see how people are living.”
Dubois told WGME that the state’s 2021 law establishing a homelessness crisis protocol that diverts homeless individuals into programs rather than charging and arresting them is part of the issue.
“There isn’t any place to send them,” Dubois said. “They’re essentially going uncharged and unprosecuted.”
After Nov. 1, Dubois said, the police will make the Park and Ride an emphasis area, and will remove any tents that are set up in the parking lot.
Dubois’ statement echoes that of Cumberland County District Attorney Jackie Sartoris, who during an interview Monday on WGAN said that she has been unable to use the county jail because of staffing issues and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sartoris told Matt Gagnon during the interview that although she’s “not a big jail person,” she needs “jail to mean something,” and that she has to “use charging as leverage to move people from their current situation into something better.”
On Monday the Portland City Council rejected a proposal to expand the city’s Homeless Services Center with 50 bunk beds, an effort meant to make more space available to offer to individuals living in the encampments.
The Maine ACLU advocated against the proposal, urging the city to stop “criminalizing homelessness” and allow the encampments to remain active until more permanent housing solutions become available.
There are currently over 260 tents throughout Portland, according to city data — 81 of which are on State of Maine property.