PORTLAND – Cold weather is taking a toll on Occupy Maine.
At 6 p.m. Thursday in Lincoln Park, five people attended the daily general assembly, far fewer than the two dozen who were attending earlier this month and the 30 to 40 in November and October.
“What’s on the agenda tonight?” asked the assembly’s facilitator, Phui Yi Kong.
“Tonight’s agenda is not to freeze to death,” replied Alan Porter, his arms wrapped around his body as he tried to warm himself.
The temperature was 24 degrees, but it felt colder in the strong wind. The forecast called for a low of 13 overnight.
Nearly three months into the encampment, it’s hard to say how many people are part of Occupy Maine’s protest of social and economic inequality. The group doesn’t keep a list. There are no dues. And, with no hierarchy, everyone has an equal say, whether they camp in Lincoln Park every night or show up at one general assembly.
But with the arrival of winter, one thing is clear: The number of people who are still willing to live and sleep outdoors is dwindling, even as Occupy Maine fights in court for its right to remain in Lincoln Park.
Many tents remain in the park — 42 on Thursday afternoon. But most are empty.
About 10 to 12 people stay in the park in the daytime, police say, and about that many, or fewer, sleep overnight.
The number of people camping at night is declining, said Harry Brown, 59, who has slept in the park almost every night since October. He expects the number of campers to be reduced by half this winter.
“To be out here, you have to know what you are doing,” said Brown, who has been homeless and living outdoors since last spring. He showed off his heavy-duty sleeping bag, which he said will keep him warm until the temperature hits 20 below zero.
The hardest part of the day, he said, is climbing out of that warm sleeping bag in the morning. He said he is prepared to last all winter.
Brown said some people in the encampment spend the daytime indoors, perhaps at the Portland Public Library or the library at the University of Southern Maine.
Bobby Davis, who entertained two friends in his tent Thursday afternoon by playing his pink guitar, said it’s hard to live outdoors for a long time, especially if one gets wet in a storm.
“It’s tough to survive,” said Davis, 51, who grew up in Falmouth. “You can’t do it day in and day out.”
He said he camps in Lincoln Park “off and on.” Most of the occupiers have to move indoors occasionally to warm up for a few days, he said, maybe “couch surfing” in friends’ apartments.
Heather Curtis, one of the most vocal members of Occupy Maine, said she is surprised at how her body has become accustomed to living outdoors. Now, she said, when she goes indoors she feels like she doesn’t have enough air.
She said many supporters of the movement feel guilty because they don’t camp overnight, but they shouldn’t.
“You don’t have to be here to be an occupier,” she said. “If you are here in spirit, you are an occupier.”
She noted that the group has more than 3,000 people following it on Twitter.
Curtis said she sleeps in the park about five nights a week. She thinks the police estimate for the overnight population is too low. Her estimate: 25 people.
Some protesters have left the encampment during the holidays to spend time with their families, Alan Porter said at Thursday’s general assembly.
Occupy Maine is Portland’s version of Occupy Wall Street, the national protest movement that began Sept. 17 in Zuccotti Park, in New York City’s financial district.
Occupy Maine sued Portland after the City Council voted Dec. 7 to deny the group a permit to camp overnight in Lincoln Park. The protesters argue that the denial violated their constitutional right to free speech.
The filing in Superior Court allows the encampment to remain. Occupy Maine and city officials agree that the protesters will not have to leave while the case is in litigation.
At the general assembly, Curtis said the group needs to raise money for legal costs. She said John Branson, the Portland attorney who is representing Occupy Maine, is donating his time and even paying court filing fees.
Thursday’s meeting lasted less than 15 minutes because the cold limited the discussion.
Before it ended, one member talked at length about his desire to start a campfire. He researched the city code, he said, and found no ordinance prohibiting fires in public parks. His argument did not win support; city officials have expressed concern about fire hazards in the encampment.
Tonight at 6, the group plans to hold its daily general assembly at the Meg Perry Center at 644 Congress St. — indoors. Kong said she expects a much bigger turnout.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: