Advocates, unhoused residents rally for an end to tent encampment sweeps in Portland
More than 100 people gathered outside Portland City Hall Friday afternoon to demand an end to the practice of clearing tent encampments. The demonstration comes as city and state workers have removed two encampments in Portland within the last two weeks.
Advocates and unhoused residents say the encampment sweeps are often traumatizing to those who have been living there.
They're urging the city to pause all encampment sweeps and instead focus resources elsewhere, such as providing more mental health, substance use disorder treatment and other services.
"It's hard enough being unhoused and living outside 24/7, let alone trying to rebuild some semblance of your life in a two-person tent on the side of the road, just to have it swept away," Jess Falero, the event's organizer who works with the Church of Safe Injection.
Don Kimball, a formerly unhoused person, said the recent encampment sweeps simply have forced unhoused people to move from place to place.
"We have to stop the homeless whack-a-mole," Kimball, who works with the non-profit Veterans of Peace Maine, said during Friday's rally. "Where are people supposed to go, when there's no where to go? The governor of Massachusetts has declared an emergency because of the unhoused homeless situation. Gov. Mills, why have you not declared an emergency here in the state of Maine for the homeless?"
Preble Street, which also helped organize Friday's rally, wrote to Portland city councilors, the governor's office, state lawmakers and other policymakers this week with a seven-point proposal for resolving the unsheltered crisis.
The Portland-based non-profit said the city should conduct an exhaustive search of any available housing options, hire more outreach workers and secure at least 150 additional housing vouchers. It also suggested setting a goal of moving at least 140 unsheltered people into Portland's Homeless Services Center by Dec. 5.
Earlier this week, Portland officials said they would consider relaxing capacity codes and adding more beds to the city's shelter.
There are more than 200 tents around Portland, according to city data.
A Portland spokesperson said that the city-led encampment crisis response team will begin its work at the park-and-ride on Marginal Way starting Monday, and that it doesn't yet have a date for when tents will be cleared.