Police made a final appeal Wednesday for homeless campers to leave a wooded area on the outskirts of Portland, giving occupants of the so-called Tent City one more day to move before facing the possibility of formal trespass notices.

The police department had warned the estimated two dozen people living on private land behind a strip mall near the Westbrook line that they had to leave by Wednesday.

Some of the occupants appeared to have moved out before the deadline, leaving behind makeshift shelters and trash strewn throughout the area behind the Pine Tree Shopping Center on outer Brighton Avenue. Some have lived for years on the land, which is crisscrossed by a network of trails leading from one campsite to another.

One of the longtime occupants is Matt Coffey, an activist and former City Council candidate who has a garden and chicken coop next to a cabin he built of scrap wood. Coffey broke down as he prepared to move out and talked about not knowing where he will go next. He said he wants to talk to the owner about buying the patch of land he calls home.

“I’m willing to pay for it,” he said.

Police officers arrived Wednesday morning and walked from campsite to campsite, telling whoever they found that they must clear out by the end of the day. Starting Thursday, police will begin issuing trespass warnings, and if anyone remains at the camps Friday, they could be subject to arrest or summons for trespassing, said Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch.


Andrea Davis, 28, said she had been camping there with her boyfriend for 10 months, but moved their tent and some belongings to a new place in Westbrook, although they wouldn’t say where. She told the police officers they’ll be back for the rest.

“We’re going to grab it today,” she said.

“As long as you’re making progress,” said Sgt. Andrew Hutchings.

While most occupants appeared to be complying, some campers who have been living on the land near a Maine Turnpike overpass have said they don’t plan to go anywhere and will wait until they are forced to leave by police. Fliers have been posted around the city to “Save Pine Tree Camp,” saying that “homelessness is not a crime.”

Coffey, who lives in an area away from the overpass, said he has spent five years in Tent City and was visibly emotional as he prepared to leave the small cabin that he calls “my home.”

He has gardens where he grows tomatoes, summer squash, spaghetti squash and watermelon. His chicken coop is empty now, but used to shelter a half dozen egg-laying chickens that ultimately were eaten by some kind of predator. He has a black and white cat named Slinky.


Coffey has a job cutting trees and has been an advocate for the poor and homeless. He has been a City Council candidate in the past and has turned in papers to run again this fall for an at-large seat.

Coffey said the area was empty and quiet when he moved there, but there have been more campers and more trouble within the past year. “There’s too many people here,” he said.

Coffey was ready to leave Wednesday morning when he emerged from his home wearing a backpack, but he had no idea where he was going or what he’ll do.

He said goodbye to a family of three that has been camping nearby for a month, and who also were packing up. Coffey leaned down and kissed a 5-year-old girl on the head.

“All right kiddo,” he said. “I probably won’t see you again.”

Portland police issued the deadline to leave the land after seeing an increase in service calls to the area for incidents such as domestic violence, arson and individuals with outstanding warrants. That was before a man living in the encampment was stabbed by a fellow camper last week, police said.


Police Chief Michael Sauschuck has said he hopes campers will take advantage of shelters and other services, or will be able to get vouchers for housing.

Portland’s tight rental market has made it difficult for people to find apartments, even if they have federal housing vouchers to cover rent. And many of the campers said they don’t want to stay in the overcrowded homeless shelters, citing bedbugs, illnesses and other reasons. When the shelters are full, some people sleep in chairs in the city’s General Assistance office.

City officials have no plan to remove the debris that’s left behind after police have cleared people from the encampment, said Julie Sullivan, a city spokeswoman. They expect the property owners to take care of it.

“It is private property,” Sullivan said. “That is (the owners’) responsibility. We can’t go and clean it up.”

City officials have identified various out-of-state corporate owners of the land where the camp is located, including Centro Heritage SPE 4 LLC and Brixmor Property Group.

Brixmor owns the Pine Tree Shopping Center, which includes a Lowe’s home improvement store and a Jo-Ann Fabric store. Based in New York City, Brixmor owns and operates 518 shopping centers across the country.


“We are talking with local officials about how best to handle the homeless population that is living on property that’s not really intended for residential use,” said Kristen Moore, Brixmor’s spokeswoman.

Moore said Brixmor has no plans to expand the shopping center or to develop the land that it owns behind it. She didn’t know whether the company planned to clear debris from the land after the campers are removed.

Staff Writers Kelley Bouchard and Matt Byrne contributed to this report.


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