The City of Portland began clearing out the large homeless encampment underneath the Casco Bay Bridge in Harbor View Park Tuesday morning as protestors attempted to block crews from entering the encampment.
Protestors opposed to the encampment sweep parked their cars in a line on Commercial Street in front of the encampment, which were towed one-by-one over the course of the morning.
One protestor told the Maine Wire that following the removal of all of the cars, the group intended on forming a line to block the clean up crews from entering the encampment, and that some were willing to be arrested.
While dozens of protestors lined the sidewalk and cars were being towed off of Commercial Street, city clean up crews began clearing the upper portion of the encampment from behind near York Street.
After all of the cars were towed from Commercial Street, the protestors moved further into the encampment and formed a line blocking the walkway through the park.
The protestors began to disperse shortly after 10 a.m.
Tuesday’s resolution of the Harbor View encampment comes after the City twice postponed the sweep due to inclement weather and to conduct further outreach in an attempt to move more people living in the encampment into shelter.
The city has stated that close to 100 beds are available at the Homeless Services Center (HSC), but that success in moving homeless individuals into the shelter has slowed in recent weeks.
Out of 83 individuals living the encampment recently surveyed by city staff, the top three reasons cited for refusing a shelter bed were loss of autonomy, transportation barriers, and fear of loss of belongings.
“I’m thankful to the Manager and her staff for the hard work they’ve been doing to get people into shelter and uphold city ordinances, as well as for the fact that they delayed action to allow more time for outreach work to occur in response to the expressed resolution from the Council,” said Portland Mayor Mark Dion in a recent statement.
“However, I do believe that we need to take affirmative steps now to address the adverse public health and safety consequences presented by these encampments to unhoused individuals as well as upon neighbors and businesses who also experience demonstrable harm if these camps are left unchecked,” Dion said.
In 2023 there were 12 deaths in Portland’s homeless encampments, and city officials have warned of increased public health and safety hazards due to the cold weather.
“In the past, encampment resolutions occurred because obstructions and the public health and safety issues required dispersion,” said City Manager Danielle West regarding the city’s policy of encampment resolutions. “Now, as we head into winter, we have an even greater public health and safety crisis to address, but we also actually have the shelter capacity to accommodate individuals who have no place else to go.”
“Leaving them outdoors is simply unconscionable,” West added.
Signs posted at the second largest of Portland’s homeless encampments on Douglass Street indicated that the city also plans to sweep that encampment Tuesday.