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Portland is preparing to remove the Bayside unhoused encampment

Portland officials are preparing to remove a homeless encampment off Bayside Trail, pictured here on April 14, 2023.
Carol Bousquet
Maine Public
Portland officials are preparing to remove a homeless encampment off Bayside Trail, pictured here on April 14, 2023.

Portland City Officials say they will move forward with the removal of an encampment of unhoused residents along the Bayside Trail.
The number of tents has grown from 50 to 84. City Councilor April Fournier says the risks of letting the encampment remain are growing.

"The trauma of removal is a real harm, the trauma of having no where to go is a harm. But I have to wonder if the risk of staying in that encampment when there are not enough safety protocols, health and sanitation starts to become larger than the risk of removal," Fournier says.

City shelters are full with 1,200 unhoused residents, many of them asylum seekers, with only a bed or two opening on any one day. And Councilor Mark Dion says there is a shelter-resistant population that will choose sleeping outside over a bed.

"I do draw a line between Asylee housing needs... these are families desperately wanting a places... as opposed to chronic resistant populations that have chosen encampments as the best path forward," Dion says. "So I think you're going to have a challenge placing those individuals because they don't want to go into a shelter because there are consequences and rules."

The city says 24 hour notice will be given to people living in the encampment before the sweep occurs. Portland officials say they have exhausted their resources and that community partners must step up and open another shelter.

Housing and Urban Development officials will visit the city next week to assist with the encampment situation. Portland will also assemble an Encampment Task Force and Mobile Engagement Center to coordinate resources for those living in the encampment.

More than 4,200 people were experiencing homelessness in Maine, according to a one-night count conducted earlier this year.

MaineHousing Director Dan Brennan says those numbers, from the state's latest Point in Time count, are about the same as last year. He says they reflect several factors, including the increasing number of families arriving in Maine seeking asylum.

Brennan also notes that the number of people defined as "chronically homeless" has drastically risen in recent years. He attributes some of that increase to people who simply can't get into a house or an apartment because of rising prices and low supply.

"I would say there might even be two types of chronically homeless in the moment. One is traditional, chronically homeless, who have been really, really hard to house. Coupled with folks who are just really finding it hard to move through the system, and get into housing, who otherwise might have solved, had housing inventory been back what it was several years ago," Brennan says.

Brennan says he hopes a bill in the legislature creating a statewide "Housing First" program would make a difference in helping chronically homeless residents find housing.