Scott Smith, who is homeless, is participating in the ongoing “sleep-out” protest at Portland City Hall. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Scott Smith, 45, said he moved from Philadelphia to Portland to escape negative street influences, including drugs and gangs. But once here, he fell into a cycle of addiction that included alcohol and drug use that has contributed to his being in and out of homelessness for the last 20 years.

Smith is one of 50 to 60 people staying at the City Hall encampment that is protesting a lack of affordable housing and other social services for homeless people.

Smith said he was banned from the city shelter for a year after he threw coffee on someone during an altercation. He said the city issued him a criminal trespass order, even though the incident occurred outside the shelter.

“It wasn’t anywhere near them, but they’re stretching the limits of CTs to the whole neighborhood and that’s not fair,” he said.

Smith said he had been staying at the Milestone Foundation’s shelter on India Street, which usually serves people with substance use issues but has served others who need shelter during the pandemic. Smith said he’s been sober for the last 10 years and being in that environment was unhealthy for him.

“It’s a bad situation for me,” he said. “I don’t want to go back to that life.”

Smith left Milestone and moved into the City Hall encampment. He said being able to stay with his friends helps him deal with the stresses of being homeless. He said many people who are chronically homeless have mental health issues, including himself.

A shirtless Smith raised his right arm, revealing several long scars along his torso after he was stabbed nearly two years ago in Deering Oaks. The incident left him with a post-traumatic stress syndrome, he said.

Smith said the people on the streets need immediate help, including bathrooms and showers, and long-term help like housing and mental health counseling and other social services. He hopes the encampment spurs action in Maine’s largest city. And he hopes help arrives before winter.

“The scary thing about this is it’s warm now, but it’s not going to be much longer,” he said. “They need to make homeless thing a priority, rather than putting it on the back burner.”

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