February 19, 2013

Letters to the editor: Homeless people deserve legal protection

Discussing homelessness is like acknowledging the elephant in the room. We all know it's there, yet few will go far enough to acknowledge the issue or propose a change.

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Sherri Ferrier takes part Dec. 21 in a vigil in Portland’s Monument Square in memory of the 30 homeless people who died in 2012. Citing legislation in California that would protect homeless people from unwarranted police harassment, a reader says Maine should consider a similar bill.

2012 File Photo/Carl D. Walsh

Homelessness needs to be discussed. Last November, 450 individuals in Portland utilized homeless shelters. On Dec. 21, the annual Homeless Persons' Memorial Vigil remembered 30 individuals who passed away in 2012 and were part of Portland's homeless community.

Working with this community, I feel compelled to speak up and voice my concern. Fortunately, others are speaking out as well. While the issue of homelessness is slowly gaining momentum in the local media, one California lawmaker attempts to bring the discussion one step further.

One California lawmaker is attempting to create new legislation titled the Homeless Bill of Rights.

This proposal would give legal protection to the homeless from unwarranted harassment from police and government. Homeless individuals would be allowed to engage in life-sustaining activities, including sleeping, congregating and panhandling in public.

Opponents of this bill told The Sacramento Bee that it may "violate the rights of other Californians by giving the homeless legal permission to congregate, sleep and sustain themselves on public property." I ask: If "other Californians" were to suddenly find themselves homeless, would they not want these rights? I would.

A Homeless Bill of Rights should be proposed in Maine. Perhaps if those who are struggling were allowed to come out from hiding, the sheer magnitude of the issue would be revealed and something might be done about it.

We don't discriminate on sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. Why should we discriminate against the homeless?

Nicole Farley

Freeport

Munjoy Hill performance venue poses parking puzzle

Many challenges lie ahead for creating a new performance hall, with 400-plus seats and a 200-seat Promenade Room, at the St. Lawrence Arts Center on Munjoy Hill.

Parking, however, will be one of the biggest challenges.

It is rare to find a performance venue in a crowded residential neighborhood. The 2010 Transportation Demand Management Plan for the arts center took this into account.

The plan included alternatives to street parking near the arts center: parking along the Eastern Prom, in lots in the Eastern Promenade Park, along Cutter Street, at the Adams School site and at the lot owned by Theriault/Landmann Associates.

Also included were extended Metro hours, parking at nearby garages and lots and shuttles between off-site locations and the arts center. A new TDM Plan will be submitted in the approval process for the arts center.

Some questions need answers. How far will folks be willing to walk once they've found a parking space, especially in foul weather? Where will people find shelter while waiting for a shuttle? How much will parking be affected by streets clogged with plowed snow? How many shuttle buses will be needed?

What is a logical, reasonable and workable parking solution? The hodgepodge of solutions in the 2010 TDM Plan is probably not the answer.

A solution that does not cause chaos in the neighborhood or undue hardship for arts center patrons may entail a smaller venue -- still beautiful and self-supporting, as it would involve lower building costs and operating costs.

The arts center's approval process will be discussed at the quarterly meeting of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the East End School. The meeting is open to the public.

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