The homeless encampment at Portland City Hall has expanded with tents stretching to Myrtle and Chestnut streets. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Mayor Kate Snyder and an organizer of the encampment of homeless people outside City Hall continued discussions about the future of the camp, but neither Snyder nor the City Council committed to take any immediate action during the council’s meeting Monday night.

Camp organizer Jess Falero and Snyder had a one-hour conversation, but there was little movement on what may come next for the dozens of people camped on Congress Street.

“I can’t say that anything great came out of it. We have conversations happening,” said Falero, 23. “We have not come to any concrete solutions.”

The conversation comes after Snyder met with organizers and camp residents last week in an emotional session at Lincoln Park. Demonstrators have said that they want the city to decriminalize camping outside; defund the police and reallocate money for more services for the most vulnerable; freeze evictions; establish overdose prevention sites and invest more in social services. Organizers have said they plan to stay at City Hall until their demands are addressed and more people receive the assistance they need.

Falero said that she told Snyder during their conversation that addressing homelessness requires providing more resources to respond to childhood trauma, which makes people more susceptible later in life to becoming homeless, contracting a chronic illness, becoming victims of domestic violence or human trafficking, or getting locked up.

“Our most demonized demographic and our most vulnerable children are the same people,” Falero said.

Later in the evening, councilors grappled with how to handle the encampment, discussing the issue for more than two hours and delaying action on a range of other items.

Councilors focused on the public health concerns during the pandemic – a lack of mask-wearing and social distancing at the camp, as well as the lack of overall sanitation. They discussed ways to provide access to bathrooms, whether at Merrill Auditorium or with portable toilets, and ways to temporarily house people during the rain expected Tuesday night, including at the Cross Insurance Arena.

Tents filled City Hall Plaza and spread onto Chestnut Street on Monday evening. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

But no decisions were made, and Snyder said she would maintain the open line of communication with organizers to continue working toward a solution.

Several dozen people are spending each night at the camp, and up to 200 people come to the site each day for the meals, clothing, basic medical care and other assistance that volunteers have been providing. The demonstration began July 22 with only a small number of tents, but the camp has grown steadily, and tents pitched on the sidewalk now wrap around short stretches of Chestnut and Myrtle streets on either side of City Hall. Tarps strung over the courtyard keep off the midday sun, and people milled in the shade trying to keep cool.

In one stretch of the afternoon, a volunteer doused a wound on a man’s arm with water from a bottle. Other volunteers handed out sandwiches and drinks, or helped people dig through piles of donated clothing.

The afternoon was peaceful, even when police entered the camp Monday evening and led away a man and a woman in handcuffs while some onlookers filmed on their phones, drawing a small crowd but no major confrontations or violence.

Concerns about safety at the site increased this weekend, when an early-morning confrontation between a motorist passing the camp and someone staying the night there led to gunfire. No one was hurt and police are investigating the shooting, but Police Chief Frank Clark said the situation at City Hall is untenable without immediate steps to address safety, drug use, indecent conduct, fights and other criminal behavior.

At the council meeting, the city’s attorney delivered a packet of documents detailing the time line and history of the Occupy Maine encampment in Lincoln Park in 2011.

Paul Cann wipes sweat from his face while packing up his belongings at City Hall Plaza in Portland on Monday. Cann camped at the plaza last week but with rainy, windy weather forecast for Tuesday, he decided to stay at a friend’s apartment for a few nights. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Occupy Maine movement’s public encampment began in October 2011, but the demonstrators were evicted by the city and the camp was cleared out in February 2012 after a judge ruled in the city’s favor that demonstrators had not properly addressed the city’s concerns over public health and safety, dismissing objections that to clear the camp was an infringement on demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.

The city has said it continues to house people each night, is paying for motel rooms and is working to shift its outreach efforts during the epidemic. Many homeless people began congregating in Deering Oaks park, drawing complaints from the public.

Falero and other protest encampment organizers say they hope the effort provides for people’s basic needs, but also serves to refocus the debate and bring more homeless people into the decision-making process.

One 49-year-old man staying at the encampment, who gave his name only as Raymond, said he appreciates how he’s been allowed to have a tent and a sense of home while staying at City Hall, and recognized the assistance volunteers have provided.

Rosa Arteaga packs up her sleeping bag near her tent at the homeless encampment at Portland City Hall on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

But Raymond said he thought that sooner or later, the city was likely to shut the demonstration down and clear people out.

“It’s inevitable,” Raymond said. “This was supposed to be temporary. You think people will be out here for life? You think there’s going to be volunteers for life? They’ll move us back to the park where we can’t have a camp, where we can’t have a home. (When) resources get thin and tight again and people get aggravated, they’ll shut us down.”

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this report.

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