The Portland City Council voted Monday evening to pass a resolution expressing opposition to a planned sweep of the city’s largest homeless encampment in Harbor View park below the Casco Bay Bridge.
The Harbor View park encampment, comprised of over 100 tents and originally scheduled to be cleared out on Tuesday due to concerns over public health and safety, will now be swept on Dec. 28.
The resolution opposing the encampment sweeps passed 7-2, with Mayor Mark Dion voting against the resolution.
While the resolution did not compel city staff to delay the sweep of the Harbor View encampment, staff have decided to postpone the sweep until Dec. 28 while continuing outreach.
“I’m getting emails from providers who are saying the encampments are incredibly unsafe, people are getting hurt, these need to be removed,” Councilor At-Large April Fournier said in discussion of the resolution. “But I’m also getting emails from providers that are saying we need to not sweep people, we need to make sure that we have time to continue to help them.”
“And then we’re also getting emails from constituents who are saying they’re being assaulted, or their children aren’t able to walk to school, or they’re not able to access parks, or they’re not able to use their city in many different places,” Fournier said.
City Manager Danielle West said last week that efforts to move individuals from the Harbor View encampment into the city’s Homeless Services Center (HSC) were initially successful, but have since “plateaued.”
West, who could not be present at Monday’s City Council meeting, said in an email to the Council that she hopes the extra time before the sweep “will allow for continued communication, help and transfer from tents to shelter.”
The HSC has recently made over 100 beds available due to the opening of a new 180-bed shelter for single asylum-seeking migrants and a 50-bed expansion to the shelter’s capacity.
In a survey of recent intakes at the HSC, “loss of autonomy” was cited as the top reason for declining a bed at the shelter.
There have been 12 deaths in Portland’s homeless encampments in 2023, and calls for service in the Harbor View park area increased from 59 to 303 from 2022 to 2023.
Early in their Monday evening meeting the Portland City Council voted to suspend the rules regarding public comment on items which are on the agenda to allow several activists to speak out against the encampment sweeps.
Normally, the public comment portion at the beginning of the Council meetings are limited to non-agenda items.
“All these people, they just get chased from one place to another,” Mike Stuckmeyer, an activist with Preble Street’s Homeless Voices for Justice told the City Council. “And it’s extremely traumatizing, stressful, and an extreme hardship for these people.”
“They should actually really be able to have some kind of sanctioned place to camp if they want to, because there’s just so many obstacles,” he added.
Braelyn Doyle, an outreach case manager in Portland, told the City Council that the encampment sweeps are a waste of resources, and that more time is needed to move the homeless into the HSC.
“I understand that a sanctioned encampment is not a great solution, but attempting to force people into that shelter is not a good or long-term solution either,” Doyle said.