Tents line the Bayside Trail on April 27. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A group of Portland homeless-service providers, housing advocates and government officials have thrown their support behind a proposal to create a task force that would oversee a mobile engagement center capable of providing food, medical care and harm-reduction aid to people at encampments, such as the one on Bayside Trail that has raised public health and safety concerns.

Members of the Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee, during a virtual meeting Thursday night, unanimously endorsed a recommendation brought forth by Kristen Dow, Portland’s director of health and human services.


The committee’s recommendations will be presented to members of the Portland City Council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee at a meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., said Aaron Geyer, the city’s director of social services. Geyer moderated Thursday’s meeting, which lasted for nearly 9o minutes.

Committee members recommended that the task force not only consist of campers from Bayside Trail, but also unhoused people living at campsites in other parts of Portland. Members also urged the city to provide resources, such as restrooms, access to laundry services, trash removal and showers, for campers as soon as possible.

Occupants of tents along Bayside Trail were put on notice April 26th that the city intended to remove them. But those plans were put on hold after the Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee requested a 30-day moratorium. The moratorium has not been enacted yet and remains under consideration, according to Geyer.


During an emergency meeting of the City Council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, councilors and city leaders discussed recommendations from Dow to create a task force that would oversee a team providing food, medical care and other resources for the Bayside Trail campers, with the goal of getting people into shelter or housing. The encampment stretches from Trader Joe’s to Franklin Street.

Some neighboring businesses have also complained about the encampment, including ConvenientMD, a health care provider that called the situation “dire, untenable and out of control.” ConvenientMD said it has encountered drug use in their parking lot and harassment of staff. Portland police said calls for service in the Bayside Trail area have increased as well.

But some members of the shelter committee are urging the city to take a more measured, compassionate approach toward the encampment.

“A 30-day moratorium doesn’t feel like it’s long enough. This is not something that is going to go away in 30 days,” Mary Cook, a member of the Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee, said at Thursday’s meeting. Cook urged the city to move cautiously by offering resources to those who struggle to survive the daily dangers of living outside.

“We need to approach this with care and compassion by offering restrooms, showers and trash removal,” said Cook, who leads the Opportunity Alliance’s PATH program to provide case management for homeless individuals.

Dow’s recommendation calls for creation of an ad hoc encampment task force as well as a mobile engagement center that the group would manage. Members of the task force will come from various community sectors including city social services and public health, emergency shelter providers, outreach providers, mental health providers and members of the faith community.

Under Dow’s plan, the task force will convene when a campsite, such as the Bayside Trail encampment, potentially needs to be removed. Dow proposes the task force meet at least twice a week with the goal of providing clear communication and intensive outreach to each person living in the encampment.

Committee members brainstormed other solutions at Thursday’s meeting, agreeing that encampments such as the one on Bayside Trail won’t easily be fixed and, if Bayside is removed, more encampments could rise up in other parts of the city.

William E. Higgins Jr., executive director of Homeless Advocacy For All, said the city could look at bringing in mobile showers and laundry services to the Bayside encampment. Mobile shower programs have been used in locations across the country including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Nashville, Tenn., to name a few.

Cullen Ryan serves as executive director for Community Housing of Maine. He called the task of keeping all people alive who live outside “an impossibility.” He said advocates need to be clear that homelessness has reached the crisis stage in Maine.

“Everyone who lives in Maine needs to be inside, to have shelter,” Ryan said, mentioning the harsh winters and summer heat. “It can be done, but it will take time.”

Geyer said the city has reached out to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD has agreed to send a team to Portland within two weeks to assess the homelessness situation and possibly to offer technical support.

“Encampments are a growing concern across the country … there is no one-size-fits-all approach when addressing them,” Dow wrote in her proposal to Interim City Manager Danielle West. “The approach outlined in this memo will undoubtedly take time to implement and see results. It is my belief though that with the current landscape in our city, this will be a comprehensive and compassionate approach to assisting those who are currently sleeping outdoors.”

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