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With few options for unhoused residents, Portland clears Bayside encampment

Portland city workers used picks, shovels and small bulldozers to remove trash, clothing and other belongings that Bayside Trail encampment residents have left behind on the morning of May 16, 2023.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
Portland city workers used picks, shovels and small bulldozers to remove trash, clothing and other belongings that Bayside Trail encampment residents have left behind on the morning of May 16, 2023.

A sense of uncertainty hung over the Bayside Trail encampment Tuesday morning, as crews with the city of Portland removed several dozen tents from the area and told unhoused people who had been living there to leave.

But many encampment residents say they're not sure what's next, and city officials say they're still searching for more temporary and permanent housing options.

The removal efforts began before 9 a.m. As police looked on, encampment residents took down their tents and packed other belongings into trash bags. City workers then used picks, shovels and small bulldozers to clear the areas of trash, clothing and other belongings that were left behind.

Some social service workers offered to give encampment residents rides somewhere else but said most still weren't sure where to go.

As he packed up his belongings Tuesday morning, Bruce Cavallaro, who has lived near the Bayside Trail for about a year, said he wasn't sure where he would go next. He said he and his cousin would likely walk around and look for a new place outdoors to sleep.

Portland shelters have been full on a nightly basis with some 1,200 people, many of them asylum seekers.

Removal efforts of the encampment alongside the Bayside Trail in Portland began on May 16, 2023.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
Removal efforts of the encampment alongside the Bayside Trail in Portland began on May 16, 2023.

The Bayside Trail has been designated as an emphasis area, meaning that the city can remove any camps that set up there again with no notice, Jessica Grondin, a city spokesperson, said Tuesday.

City officials have been urging encampment residents to visit the social services division to get on the waiting list for any shelter beds that might open up.

At Monday night's city council meeting, Portland Councilor April Fournier said the decision to remove the encampment without providing other shelter options didn't feel right.

"This is not the choice that we wanted to have, but we have to weigh public health and safety with getting people sheltered," she said. "What this also does for us, and as we've said to our county partners, to our neighboring municipalities and to our state partners is, we need help."

She said she's hopeful that the situation will raise public awareness about the city's need for additional resources.

Federal officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development were expected to meet with Portland staff members this week to offer assistance.