Dani Laliberte, right, interviews Tyler Giuliani on July 17 underneath an overpass along the Fore River Parkway Trail in Portland, where Giuliani is living in a tent. Laliberte is an outreach worker and team lead for Opportunity Alliance’s PATH team, which provides support to homeless people. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In the shade under an overpass on the Fore River Parkway Trail, Dani Laliberte and Tyler Giuliani found a quiet spot to sit on some rocks.

Laliberte grabbed a pile of papers from the cart she was towing and started to ask Giuliani questions. Was he sleeping outside? Did he feel safe? Did he have adequate food and clean water?

She wrote everything down and promised to follow up, then offered him snacks and bottled water.

The exchange was part of Laliberte’s daily work as an outreach worker and team lead for the Opportunity Alliance’s PATH team, which provides support to homeless people in Cumberland and York counties.

It’s also part of Portland’s Encampment Crisis Response Team, a new approach from the city and community groups to address growing homeless encampments and reduce the number of people sleeping outside.

The team was formed this spring just as the city cleared an 80-tent encampment on the Bayside Trail, sparking debate about the best way to respond to homeless camps and prompting advocates to ask for a more compassionate option.


“I would say this is a much better model,” said Director of Health and Human Services Kristen Dow. “It’s going to hopefully get people access to the resources they need and intensive case management.”

Two months into the team’s work, only three people have been placed in shelters or housing. And dozens of tents still line the Fore River Parkway Trail – the first focus area – ahead of a Sept. 6 deadline to get people out of the camp.

“I want to give it time to work,” said Mayor Kate Snyder. “I know we have dedicated city staff and community partners who are there every single day. … But what we’re seeing as we inch towards the deadline is that people may not be moving from the encampment to shelter or housing at the pace and volume we would hope for.”

“We have a month to go, so I hope in the course of the next month the efforts to move people from tents to housing or shelter can have greater effect,” she added.

Housing is in short supply. Not everyone feels comfortable going to the city’s shelter. And area residents, many of whom are sympathetic to the people living on the trail, are also growing frustrated by the situation. In an opinion piece in the Press Herald last week, two West End residents said the city has been overwhelmed and called for a stronger response to encampments.



The work comes as communities around the state are grappling with a housing crisis and growing numbers of people living outside.

The end of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program, which up until the end of June had been paying for many homeless people to stay in hotels because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has also contributed to an increase in people back on the street.

Dani Laliberte, left, and Daniel Babigian, center, talk with Chris Clark and Amanda Sam at a homeless encampment along the Fore River Parkway Trail in Portland on July 17. Laliberte and Babigian are part of the city’s new Encampment Crisis Response Team, which was developed to address the growing number of homeless encampments using a new approach to reduce the number of people sleeping outside. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As the temperatures warmed this spring and summer, camps in Portland continued to grow, with tents now lining the edge of Deering Oaks, the Western Prom, a park and ride on Marginal Way and Harbor View Memorial Park.

Dow said Thursday that there are at least 244 tents with people living in them around the city – up from 130 in early June. The city only just started tracking the weekly number of tents in November, so there’s no year-to-year comparison, a spokesperson said.

The crisis response team came out of research into what other communities around the U.S. are doing and feedback from community groups that do on-the-ground social work and outreach in Portland, Dow said.

More than a dozen different nonprofit service providers are involved, along with a variety of city departments, including health and human services, police and fire. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has also been participating.


The team is divided into seven smaller groups, each with a different focus, like meeting basic needs, tracking available housing and matching people with housing.

They meet regularly and have been compiling a list of everyone in the encampment at the Fore River Parkway Trail – 62 people as of last week – and entering their information into a statewide database.

Team members then get together for what they call “case conferencing” – to talk about who is at the encampment, what their needs are and what resources are available to match them with housing or supports.

“That wasn’t happening really in a coordinated way before,” Dow said.

Dani Laliberte interviews a woman in her tent at a homeless encampment along the Fore River Parkway Trail in Portland on July 17. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The team has brought in two portable restrooms that get cleaned and stocked daily by city staff, a dumpster for trash, and a large container for sharps disposal – key health and safety tools that advocates and homeless people had asked for.

Mary Cook, a senior director at the Opportunity Alliance, said those additions matter.


“If someone isn’t able to meet their basic needs, they can’t go beyond that,” she said. “If you’re running around all day looking for a bathroom and figuring out how to take a shower, you can’t work on a housing search.”


Since June, 61 beds have opened up at the city’s Homeless Services Center and have been offered to people at the Fore River, but only one person at the encampment has been willing to go, according to Dow. The center is still full on a nightly basis, however, quickly filling with others in need.

The new 208-bed center opened in March and so far has been largely used by asylum seekers. It has grappled with misperceptions and resistance from some of the people it aims to serve.

“There’s still a lot of misinformation about what it’s like there and how it works,” said Andrew Bove, vice president of social work at Preble Street, one of the community groups involved in the team.

He said some people don’t like the 6 p.m. check-in and the location and transportation options. The shelter is located on the outskirts of the city in the Riverton neighborhood, with a shuttle service that runs into the city from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.


It has more rules than at some smaller private shelters, Bove said. “It’s a large facility.”

Dow said the city is working to address concerns and is offering tours so that if a bed opens up, people have an idea in advance of what the center is like. She said the 6 p.m. check-in is flexible for those with jobs or other commitments.

“We’re absolutely willing – and actively working with people at the Fore River and other providers – to talk about any barriers that might be out there,” she said.


Advocates say that forcibly removing encampments can have harmful impacts on the people living in them – traumatizing an already vulnerable population, making it harder for outreach workers to find them, increasing the chances of overdosing alone, and leading to a loss of community and belongings.

But there are also dangers that come from living in an encampment.


“You have the perfect recipe for all the people who prey on people and can say, ‘Here are some perfect human trafficking victims,’” said Cullen Ryan, executive director of Community Housing of Maine, another community partner on the team. “They can get further entrenched in substance use disorder and taken advantage of. Really bad things can happen when you concentrate a bunch of vulnerable people together with no structure or support.”

Ryan said the new approach is promising. “There has been a change where what started as just some communication we didn’t have before about bed availability has turned into a real dialogue about who exactly may be most ready to grab that bed,” he said.

Amanda Sam puts her hand on Chris Clark’s back as they walk through a homeless encampment on the Fore River Parkway Trail in Portland on July 17. The two are homeless but do not stay at the encampment they said because they feel safer at locations with fewer people. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

At the same time, some team members say the Sept. 6 deadline to complete the work at the Fore River isn’t realistic.

“It’s important not to rush it and for us to find housing that’s appropriate for the person we’re interacting with,” said Laliberte, the outreach worker from the Opportunity Alliance. “For some people, shelters work. Others may want to get into sober living.”

She said more time is needed to find the proper placements, which can be difficult given the lack of affordable housing options.



Giuliani, the man Laliberte met with under the overpass, said he’s been living at the Fore River encampment for a few months though he’s been homeless since he was a teenager, traveling and bouncing around from place to place.

He said the city should be lenient.

“I think they should allow people to camp wherever they want,” said Giuliani, 34. “If there’s negative activity, people as a community should take care of it. It doesn’t need to be enforced by the city or state.”

People who live near the encampment have mixed feelings about it.

Pamela Murton, who lives on Whitney Avenue and is a longtime resident of Libbytown, said she used to enjoy walking on the Fore River Parkway Trail but avoids it now because it feels unsafe, especially after a man was killed there in January.

Murton, a retired social worker, said she also is concerned for the people living there.


“Some people, for complex reasons, don’t want to or cannot live in a shelter, even when offered,” she said, adding that the city could try setting aside a permanent site for those who choose to live outside – with bathrooms, trash receptacles and other supports.

Liana Lemke, who lives on Frederic Street, said she and her husband have had packages stolen from their front porch – she thinks likely by residents of the encampment, though she also sympathizes with people there. She said she was happy to see the city add the dumpster and portable toilets at the end of the street, even if they brought in more rodents.

“Many are struggling in one way or another,” said Lemke, 36. “It’s not fair to keep shuffling them around the city without providing a legitimate solution.”

Snyder said she has heard from people across the city who are impacted by encampments and are eager for more to be done. The mayor added that there is already some work happening to address other encampments, such as visits from case workers and trash pickup.

And the city is planning to move the focus of the crisis response team to the encampment at the park and ride on Marginal Way after work is completed at the Fore River. The state has already taken steps this month to section off a part of the lot to separate the growing encampment and an area to be used by commuters.

“But I think we have to see whether Fore River worked,” Snyder said. “What about it worked and didn’t? If we shift our attention from Fore River to Marginal Way, are there changes that need to be made so it happens more quickly and more effectively?”


Tents sit on the edge of a park and ride lot off of Marginal Way on Tuesday. The Maine Department of Transportation temporarily closed a section of the parking lot because of homeless encampments. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


Despite the challenges, Dow said the goal is still to offer everyone at the Fore River encampment housing or shelter by Sept. 6.

She said the deadline is about balancing the concerns of neighbors and the public with the work to find housing placements. The city also told Avesta Housing, which owns the property where the dumpsters and portable toilets are located, that those amenities would only be temporary.

If people are still at the encampment after Sept. 6, Dow said, they will be asked to relocate and the trail will be cleared. But over the next month, she said, she hopes the number of people placed into housing or shelter will grow.

“This isn’t going to be like when the Bayside Trail was cleared in a couple of days,” Dow said. “We can really do some intensive work over the next month and let people know, ‘We want to get you into some kind of shelter. We want to get you into housing.’”

On Thursday, piles of trash, abandoned furniture and stacks of wood pallets lined the Fore River trail.


One 53-year-old woman, who declined to give her name because she didn’t want her son to know she is homeless, said she’s been living on the trail and thought the deadline was “far-fetched.”

She said she filled out a housing application with Laliberte, but there are also many other people on the trail in need. “Sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day,” she said.

The woman said she didn’t think she would want a bed at the city’s shelter. “You have a whole bunch of people in an enclosed space, and I don’t know a majority of them,” she said. “A lot of the predators probably do go there. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable.”

Lately, the woman said, the energy at the encampment has changed.

A sign posted at the Frederic Street entrance says, “Please don’t be a (expletive) douche bag and bring your (expletive) trash all the way to the dumpster.” Another sign farther down the trail reads, “Stay the (expletive) out of here.”

People keep to themselves more and aren’t as friendly, the woman said.

“I think they see Sept. 6 looming, and things aren’t coming together,” she said. “I think people are worried and concerned.”

Asked what she would do if she had to leave the trail Sept. 6, she said she hadn’t thought much about it.

“I can’t think that far ahead,” she said. “It’s just one day at a time.”

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