Ed Page has been homeless for years and the number of people in need is higher than he’s seen in a long time. “It’s only getting worse by the day,” Page said on a recent morning outside Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter.

The 54-year-old is among hundreds of homeless individuals and families in Portland. The city is providing shelter to about 1,000 people, including asylum seekers, on a nightly basis, and that doesn’t count people camping or sleeping on the streets.

Ed Page, who says he is also known as Father Time, has been homeless off and on for over 20 years. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“There’s no place for us to go,” said 32-year-old Sarah Double, who’s been camping in Deering Oaks.

With colder weather coming, there will soon be additional challenges.

“The homelessness and affordable housing crisis we’re in right now is really tragic,” said Daniella Cameron, the deputy director at Preble Street, a nonprofit social services provider that on Tuesday opened Elena’s Way on Portland Street, a new 40-bed wellness shelter accepting residents through a referral process.

She said the group’s outreach staff estimates that there are 75 to 100 more people living on the streets in Portland than the city’s count – and that’s the population the new center seeks to serve. They anticipated filling six of the 40 beds Tuesday, with more spots to be filled later in the week.


“It’s going really smoothly,” Cameron said. “We’re thrilled to be able to welcome the first people to the shelter. … We want to be thoughtful and intentional so as not to overwhelm shelter staff and guests. My guess is we’ll be up to 15 or 20 by the end of this week. It depends on staffing and how things are going, but my guess is by next week or over the next few weeks we’ll be up to the full 40.”


The city of Portland is continuing to use hotel rooms to house people who can’t get into its two shelters, which together can accommodate about 300 people per night.

The overall number of people getting help from the city has gone down since the spring − but it’s still higher than this time last year, when the city was providing shelter to about 850 people per night.

Brian French plays guitar while sitting on the sidewalk along Portland Street in Portland on Friday, October 7, 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Health and Human Services Director Kristen Dow said the recent drop is likely because of the city’s announcement in May that it could no longer guarantee families housing in hotels, and because some families are now staying in a Saco hotel being run by Catholic Charities. That hotel is currently housing 287 people from 77 asylum-seeking families.

But the city also is seeing individual asylum seekers needing shelter. “It continues to be a concern for us, especially as we head into the winter months,” Dow said.



Over the summer, Portland sought to clarify its approach to unauthorized camping in public spaces with a policy on how and when staff would respond to camps in public places. The policy notes that campsites can pose health and safety risks, including exposure to disease and sometimes violence.

Many of those camps are found in Deering Oaks, where Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Ethan Hipple estimated the maintenance crew and rangers — a staff of about 10 — spent as much as 60 percent of their time at some points this summer.

Asked if there have been more efforts to clean up the park recently, Hipple said it has fluctuated, but said that when more people started camping in the park this summer, “we had to do increased clean-up.”

This sign that says no camping was recently placed by the city of Portland in Deering Oaks park. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Some people living in the park last week said they’ve noticed an increase in clean-ups, but that being forced to move around is a constant in their lives.

“If there are too many tents together, they come bother you, or if it looks like it’s a mess,” said Double, who said she has a case manager who found her an apartment that she’ll be moving into soon. “I understand. It’s a family park. A kids’ park. But lately, getting closer to winter, it’s become more and more that they’re telling people to pack up their tents.”


Many are struggling with addiction, have been kicked out of shelters or haven’t been able to find a hotel room, Double said.

Outside the Oxford Street Shelter, Page said “a lot of people are being kicked out of places (in the neighborhood) because they want to make way for condominiums.”

“This building going up over here right now, I remember when it used to be a vacant park we would all go frequent and hang out in when it was nice weather,” he said, gesturing to one nearby condo building.

Kimmy Hardt of Sanford says she ended up homeless on the streets of Portland after falling into a depression after her son died. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Desirae Rowe sat on the sidewalk. She’s been homeless on and off for about 14 years. With winter coming, Rowe said, she plans to “run away” and see if she can go stay with a friend in Florida.

“Think about how many abandoned buildings we have around the city that we could repurpose,” Rowe said. “I just don’t think anyone wants to bother. They want to scoot us out, unseen and forgotten about. A lot of people get lost in the cracks.”

Between January and the end of October of 2021, there were 242 camp infractions in the city, none of which were in Deering Oaks. Hipple said that while there was a lot of debris and activity in the park that required cleaning, there was no major tent presence. This year, he said, 238 campsites already had been cleaned or removed citywide as of last week, which means the 2022 numbers will likely be similar to or slightly higher than in 2021.


Hipple said there are many things driving encampments – the lack of affordable housing, substance abuse, mental illness. “It’s hard to pinpoint what the causes are,” Hipple said. “Oftentimes in parks we’re just dealing with the aftereffects. After a person hits rock bottom or doesn’t have a place to stay, that’s when we’re dealing with the problem of cleaning the park up and trying to get that person connected with services.”

Desirae Rowe works on a drawing while sitting on the sidewalk along Cedar Street in Portland on Friday. Rowe said she has been homeless for many years and that working on her art is therapeutic for her. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


Hipple said the parks department, health and human services, police and community partners met last week for a winter planning meeting. “I don’t think anyone has a solution, but we do talk to each other and try to coordinate what we’re doing,” he said.

He said finding adequate indoor space to house people this winter is a priority, and there’s also concern about a pause on new applications for the state’s emergency rental assistance program.

In addition to opening Elena’s Way, Preble Street is making plans to consolidate its Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter on Preble Street, which has 24 beds for kids ages 12 to 20, and its Teen Center, which provides daytime services like meals, access to showers, mail and case management, into one site at the current teen center location on Cumberland Avenue.

Construction on that project is expected to start this spring, and while it won’t increase capacity, it will create a better model for serving vulnerable youth, Cameron said.

The city is also building a new homeless services center in Riverton. Construction on the center is expected to be finished in February with possible occupancy by March, city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said. The center will replace the Oxford Street Shelter and expand capacity from about 150 beds to 208.

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