Shirley Pedroso sits on the curb outside Portland City Hall on Tuesday as part of the ongoing “tent-out.” Pedroso said she has an apartment but spends all her money on rent, so she has been going to City Hall Plaza for the food and services provided there for free. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said she plans to hold a “listening session” Wednesday morning to hear the concerns of dozens of people who have been camped out at City Hall for the past week.

The announcement of the listening session, scheduled for 9 a.m. in Lincoln Park, comes after the City Council held a workshop about the encampment Monday night without allowing public comment and on the same day Snyder reached out to organizers of “Tent-Out Portland” for a meeting to discuss the group’s demands, which center largely on affordable housing and social services.

The move comes as the city raises public safety concerns about the protest, which led to the closure of City Hall – a move that officials say could cost $275,000 a week in lost revenue from things such as vehicle registrations.

The city attorney plans to brief councilors next week about actions taken in 2011 and 2012 in response to the OccupyMaine protest, which went on for several months before the city won a court order to disband the encampment over public safety concerns.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder at a press conference in March. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Snyder said in an interview Tuesday morning that she had planned to stop by the encampment Monday but decided against it because of the large number of people in the plaza and the lack of face coverings. Snyder said she is concerned about contracting the coronavirus and passing it along to her elderly parents.

“I wanted to make an effort to go down there and listen,” Snyder said before announcing her listening session Tuesday afternoon. “I think that there’s an opportunity for a conversation about existing resources and opportunities to help people.” Social distancing and masks are required at Wednesday’s session.

While Snyder wants to start a dialogue, protesters are mostly interested in action. They said in a written statement Monday that they plan to remain in the plaza until their demands are met. The list of demands includes ambitious proposals such as defunding the police and investing more resources into social services and opening safe injection sites, which violate federal law. Demands also include legalizing camping outside, freezing evictions and creating more low-income housing.

All signs indicate protesters are digging in for the long haul. Over the past week, a small community has taken root within the hard plaza at City Hall, with allies regularly donating supplies such as food, tents and sleeping mats. One canopy has a sign that lists contact information for each city councilor and encourages campers to send them messages. Large tarps have been hung in the far corners of the plaza, covering an unknown number of tents and providing a private space for campers. Hanging from one blue tarp were two signs: “No room” and “Out.”

The encampment continues to have 30 tents and several canopies where volunteers distributed clothing, food, beverages and medicine, including the overdose antidote naloxone. Signs encourage people to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, but the concentration of tents and people makes that difficult. Few campers are wearing face coverings.

On Tuesday, a batch of fresh needles and syringes was placed on top of a city trash can, and a container to dispose of used needles was hanging nearby. Beer cans were visible from the sidewalk.

Adam Rice, one of the organizers, said 50 to 60 people slept at the encampment Monday night, but 100 to 200 people stop by during the day to get food, clothing and other supplies. He said about a dozen volunteers have been trained in de-escalation, and campers are also helping to keep the peace and maintain safety. Volunteers from the youth shelter have been helping clean up trash and recycling.

Rice said he has raised $27,000 toward $70,000 needed to purchase a mobile shower unit. He did not know how much other money had been raised to support the encampment, because that effort was being overseen by another organizer, who was not available.

Snyder said the city’s shelters are only at half capacity, so there’s room for anyone seeking emergency shelter. The city shelters, open 24 hours a day, provide access to bathrooms, showers, laundry and other services. The city operates an adult shelter on Oxford Street, family shelters on Chestnut Street and has established a temporary shelter in the Portland Expo.

And as of Tuesday, 193 homeless people and 14 families were staying in hotel rooms because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state is paying 70 percent of the cost.

“Portland does have resources for people right now,” Snyder said.

But Rice said some of the people sleeping at City Hall have been issued criminal trespass orders, preventing them from using the shelter. Others simply don’t feel safe there for a variety of reasons. He urged councilors to come down to the encampment and speak with the campers individually. Only then will they realize that the shelter system is not working for everyone, he said.

When asked if the protesters were open to compromising with the city, Rice said he wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking on the group’s behalf. He said the list of demands issued over the weekend came from the campers, some of whom are employed but homeless — a symptom of Portland’s affordable housing problem.

“We wish nobody had to camp outside,” Rice said. “We’re encouraging the council to do the same thing we’re doing and actually talk to the population and listen to them. In the course of seven days it really wasn’t hard to find a solution to anything that’s happened and they have a lot more time money resources than we do, so it really shouldn’t be hard to help this community.”

Christine Blair, who has been staying at the encampment, said she was heartened by the community support for the encampment by providing free clothes, food and other necessities.

“If we can do this, imagine what else we could do,” Blair said, adding that many campers need special services. “We need help. We need counseling. We need encouragement.”

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