Robert Bobo listens as a Portland police officer tells him that he is not allowed to set up a tent in City Hall plaza during a protest before a City Council workshop about homeless encampments on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Portland City Manager Danielle West is suggesting that the City Council consider temporarily adding capacity to the city’s new shelter even though she acknowledged that the plan doesn’t address the root causes of the city’s homeless crisis.

West’s recommendation Tuesday night came after a protest outside City Hall, an extended public comment period and discussion during a City Council workshop on homeless encampments that addressed a number of concerns, including barriers to accessing the shelter and staffing shortages.

West originally had suggested expanding the capacity at the Homeless Services Center in Riverton by 150 beds, but after council discussion she said she would cap the proposed expansion at 50 beds. The council will take it up at its next meeting, Oct. 2.

The expanded capacity at the center would be temporary, lasting six months, West said. During that time, the shelter at 166 Riverside Industrial Parkway, which is being prepared to house asylum seekers, is expected to open, making hundreds of beds at the Homeless Services Center available, West said.

The project would cost about $1.5 million, but General Assistance would cover most of it, meaning the city would pay about $135,000.

“This is just an idea,” West said. “It uses existing resources we already have available. We aren’t trying to address and resolve the root causes of homelessness, we’re trying to address a crisis situation that I’ve seen accelerate over the last four to five months.”


The execution of the project would require the city to declare a limited state of emergency to get around regulations and promptly increase capacity ahead of the winter months. West said she has spoken with the state about this proposal.

In tandem with the increased shelter capacity, West said Maine State Housing would work with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to offer an array of landlord incentives, flexible funding to help with alternative housing plans and increased rental assistance, including Section 8 housing vouchers.

“I don’t think we have the resources to start something new,” Mayor Kate Snyder said after hearing extensive public comment. Snyder said she is inclined to move forward with the proposal in the spirit of taking some imperfect action over inaction.

Councilor Roberto Rodriguez expressed concern that the proposal for increased capacity does not address the barriers that are keeping many homeless people from accepting beds.

“I don’t see the equation of how increasing capacity addressing the challenges that we saw the (Encampment Crisis Response Team) encounter,” he said.

Councilor Mark Dion asked that the council look into public safety solutions to address what he called “dangerous conditions” in the encampments and advocated for a safety plan.


Councilor Andrew Zarro echoed Snyder’s sentiment that it is imperative the council take some kind of action. “It feels like we’re just in analysis paralysis,” he said. But he said West’s proposal may be too temporary.

“We’re talking about a few weeks, and the return on that investment for the community. … I’m not there yet,” he said, referencing the upcoming opening of the Riverside shelter. Zarro said he would support transitional housing solutions, and in the meantime would like to explore offering overnight housing to homeless people when the temperature drops especially low in the winter.

Councilor April Fournier said she visited the Homeless Services Center this week and has concerns about whether it can handle more beds. “My first concern is the increase in people when (the center) was not really designed to hold that many people,” she said.

Fournier also is concerned about staffing, noting that the shelter is still trying to hire for twenty positions. She asked the city manager to present the council with temporary shelter options at other locations in or around Portland this winter.

West suggested bringing forth a more detailed update on the existing proposal at the next council meeting to address the concerns that council members raised.



Protesters opposing Portland’s homeless policies rallied in front of City Hall before the workshop, including one man who started to erect a tent in front of City Hall until police told him it was against city ordinance.

A Portland police officer approached Robert Bobo as a crowd gathered around the orange tent he had laid out on the ground.

“I’m going to ask you to take down the tent,” the officer said.

Chip Wesley holds up a sign he made for a homeless protest in the plaza in front of City Hall in Portland before a City Council workshop about homeless encampments on Tuesday. Wesley volunteers with various homeless advocacy groups in the city. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I want to bring attention to this meeting,” Bobo said. The officer and Bobo went back and forth for a while, with the officer telling Bobo that pitching a tent on City Hall grounds is against city ordinance.

“Then somebody help me,” Bobo said. A few bystanders came and sat beside him on his tent.

“If you need people to stand here with you, I’ll stand,” a bystander shouted.


Bobo eventually rolled up his tent and moved on, saying he was concerned the officer would have taken his tent had he pitched it.

“If I had another tent I would, but this is my only tent,” he said. “I just got it today.”

Though the tent didn’t go up, protesters held signs reading “Stop the Sweep” and organizers distributed pizza.

Organizer Jess Folero said the protest was designed to encourage the City Council to vote no on the city manager’s proposal to add beds to the city’s new Homeless Services Center.

“Our concern about shelters is that the shelters are warehousing people,” Folero said. “It’s not an actual solution to homelessness as a whole, it perpetuates the violence and trauma that people experience.”

Folero says the solution is to stop encampment sweeps and instead invest in longer-term housing solutions.


By the time Snyder called the council to order at 5:00 p.m., it was standing room only in the chambers and the balcony was full. Snyder gave a short opening statement and emphasized that the city had “a greater than ever urgency to find solutions.”

“I don’t think our community has a shared understanding of the problem,” Snyder said in her statement. She said she hopes through discussion and public comment, the community can reach some consensus about the crux of the problem.


The allotted maximum 90 minutes of public comment was exceeded by a few minutes to get through the entire line that queued up the moment public comment opened.

Comments were varied and came from business owners, private residents, community housing partners, and more.

John Rogers, the owner of Maine Running, said the Marginal Way encampment is posing safety concerns for his employees and for the patrons of his business. Rogers said that solicitation, drug use, discarded needles, sex trafficking and vandalism pose some of the biggest risks to his business. He urged the council to promptly develop an emergency plan.

Ahead of the workshop, Preble Street, the social services nonprofit, sent a testimony to the council expressing concern that the proposal ignores the reality that “adding shelter capacity alone will not bring people inside.” “We need to lower the barriers for entry at the (Homeless Services Center) and make sure that all services are best practice and informed by the people who would be living at (it).”

An outreach case worker from Preble Street, Bob Avery, outlined during the public comment period some of the specific barriers he has seen come up in the encampments that keep people from accepting shelter beds. Those barriers include the distance of the shelter from downtown Portland – where many homeless people access crucial services, rules that ban couples from entering together into shelter, rules that ban pets, among other concerns that many homeless people have experienced trauma and mental health challenges that make it difficult to stay in an institutional setting. Several outreach workers and residents implored the council to stop the encampment sweeps, especially when housing remains largely inaccessible to many in the encampments.

Matt Brown, who works at a funeral home and has responded to unattended death calls, said he has seen “countless” people die homeless on the street. “My belief is that what is killing people is not heroin, fentanyl or alcohol, it is hopelessness,” he said. “We need to explore the reasons for the hopelessness that people are feeling out there.”

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