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With more than 100 newly open shelter beds, Portland details plans for encampment under bridge

Unhoused people camping along Marginal Way in Portland.
Maine Public
Unhoused people camping along Marginal Way in Portland.

With the opening of the new shelter for asylum seekers earlier this week, the city of Portland said it has a plan to fill 120 open beds at the Homeless Services Center.

Portland officials said Friday it's all hands on deck to work with those who have been living at the Harbor View Memorial Park encampment under the Casco Bay Bridge, which according to a city dashboard, has more than 120 tents.

City manager Danielle West said 11 people from the encampment have plans so far to move since more beds opened at the homeless shelter earlier this week.

Portland outreach workers and temporarily reassigned city staff will encourage others living at Harbor View to move to the shelter in the coming days and weeks and will provide transportation and storage options for their belongings. The city's encampment crisis response team has set a goal of relocating 20 people a day to the shelter.

"We are hopeful that this strategy will continue to be successful in the coming days," West said Friday in a statement.

In addition, work is underway to add 50 more beds to the Homeless Services Center. The Portland City Council voted last month to expand capacity at the municipal-run shelter.

Portland officials said they have not yet set a date to clear the Harbor View encampment, but the Maine Department of Transportation said it will ask some people within a certain area under the Casco Bay Bridge to move on Dec. 11.

DOT spokesman Paul Merrill said Friday afternoon that the department plans to cordon off a section under the bridge with fencing to protect people from snow and ice that may fall from the plows clearing the roads above. The department also needs access to the area to fix a sewage pipe under the bridge and wants to avoid anyone setting a fire, he added.

Meantime, smaller encampments scattered around state property along I-295 in Portland were cleared by Maine DOT on Friday. Merrill said there were safety concerns with about two dozen tents pitched close to traffic near exits 5, 6 and 7.

The work from city, state and non-profit outreach workers comes as two people living in tents have died within a week in Portland.

Portland Police said Friday that a 52-year-old man was found dead inside a tent at the Harbor View encampment. City police are still investigating the death of another man, who was found inside a burning tent last weekend along I-295 in Portland. Another person was found dead last weekend in Sanford in a makeshift tent that had been destroyed in a fire.