Amber Lesperance, whose left leg is swollen from an infection, packs up her belongings from inside her tent Monday near the Fore River Parkway. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It was a familiar scene in Portland on Wednesday morning as people packed up tents, stuffed their belongings into garbage bags and pulled shopping carts and suitcases down the Fore River Parkway Trail.

City workers began clearing 67 tents from the trail around 8 a.m., marking the second time in a week that a large homeless encampment was closed. The state cleared an encampment of 45 tents near Deering Oaks park last week.

As the removal got underway Wednesday, people scrambled to pack up. Amber Lesperance, who has been living on the trail for several months, said she had rented a U-Haul and planned to go stay at a friend’s house.

She was lying on the floor of her tent Wednesday morning, sorting through bags and Tupperware containers with a severely swollen foot that she said was caused by an infection.

“It’s just another day,” Lesperance said. “At the end of it, we will get through it.”

Edwin Umana sat in a lawn chair nearby, his belongings piled high on top of a shopping cart. Umana, 53, said he had lived on the trail for almost three months since he got kicked out of a sober living house where staff accused him of passing out drugs.


He planned to go to another encampment at the Maine Department of Transportation park and ride on Marginal Way, and is hoping to get back into sober living.

“It is what it is,” Umana, 53, said of the city’s decision to clear the site. “I don’t even know how this came about.”

But the Marginal Way encampment is expected to become the next site targeted by the city’s new Encampment Crisis Response Team, which spent the summer trying to find housing or shelter for those living at the Fore River trail.

The team has placed 18 people in shelter or housing and offered 180 shelter beds to people living at the encampment since June 28, city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said Wednesday.

She said that ultimately the city decided to clear the encampment because of health and safety concerns, despite calls from advocates and some city councilors to postpone the deadline.

In a statement posted on Instagram Tuesday, the three members of the council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee – April Fournier, Victoria Pelletier and Anna Trevorrow – called on the city to postpone the camp removal for at least a month.


“We understand that we have had this date in place for months, that there are community concerns for safety and waste, and that some members of the public would like this gone – that being said, this feels like poor timing, especially since the council has an encampment workshop scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 14,” the councilors wrote.

Kristen Dow, director of health and human services, updated the councilors on the clearing at the City Council meeting Wednesday night. She said that despite offering beds at the city shelter to everyone in the encampment ahead of the sweep, 48 people remained there when officials arrived to clear the encampment Wednesday.

The nonprofit social services provider Preble Street also called on the city last week to postpone the clearing, and did so again in an Instagram post on Tuesday.

“Folks in the community who have experience working with people in encampments and folks living in the encampments know the speed at which this work can be done, and we knew it was not going to happen this quickly,” Taylor Cray, advocacy superviser at Preble Street, said on Wednesday. “We asked again and again, ‘Can we please postpone the sweep?’ and we were repeatedly told, ‘No, that can’t happen.’ It’s just really frustrating.”

Cray said it takes time to get people into shelter and housing, especially amid an affordable housing shortage and as city shelters have consistently been full.

A Portland police officers stands within a homeless encampment at the Fore River Parkway Trail Wednesday morning. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

And while the city has noted the number of shelter beds that have opened up over the last few months, Cray said there are reasons people might not go, such as not wanting to leave a partner behind or simply being overwhelmed by the congregate setting.


“Finding something that works is really important, because when people are in shelter that doesn’t work for them, they won’t stay there,” she said. “In order to do good outreach work, relationships have to be built and people have to trust each other. That doesn’t happen overnight.”

Erica Mathies, who has been homeless with her boyfriend, Chris Cavallaro, for two years, said she doesn’t want to go to the shelter because she can’t take her dog, Jax, a miniature greyhound mix.

“I just can’t do it,” said Mathies, 24. “I have bad anxiety and depression and he’s the one that helps me.”

Mathies said she has been offered temporary foster care for Jax, “but I just can’t do it.”

Erica Mathies, 24, waits for her boyfriend to help move her belongings as Jax, a 4-year-old miniature greyhound mix, sits atop a wagon at the Fore River Parkway Trail encampment on Wednesday morning. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


She and Cavallaro have been homeless since losing their jobs during COVID-19. As a result they couldn’t pay for the trailer they were living in in Buxton, Mathies said.


“It’s been hard,” Mathies said. “Not having a place to live and having to change where we’re staying at, it’s hard to keep a job and not know where you’re going. We also don’t have vehicles.”

Mathies said the couple was considering going to stay at the park and ride, but noted that there are already a lot of people there – many of whom moved there last spring after the city cleared an 80-tent encampment in Bayside.

“I’m also not sure because I heard that’s the next place (to get cleared) and then we’ll have to do this all over again,” she said.

The city stuck to its Wednesday deadline in order to be able to turn the crisis response team’s focus to the Marginal Way encampment and other encampments around the city, Grondin said, and to try and balance the needs of people at the encampment with complaints from the public.

“We’re trying to be compassionate and provide resources, but on the other side there are residents and businesses that want to be able to use trails and not be scared,” she said.

Portland city employees clear a homeless encampment under a bridge near the Fore River Parkway Trail on Wednesday morning. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The crisis response team was able to place dumpsters, portable bathrooms and provide access to water on nearby private property owned by Avesta Housing, and Grondin said the city also had an agreement with them to only use the site for a set period of time.

As of Wednesday, people were living in 223 tents around Portland, according to a city dashboard. The crisis response team is expected to shift its focus to Marginal Way starting Sept. 18. A deadline has not been set yet for the work at that encampment.

Staff Writer Grace Benninghoff contributed to this report.

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