The new Homeless Services Center in Portland’s Riverside neighborhood. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The Portland City Council rejected a proposal to declare a limited state of emergency at the Homeless Services Center in order to temporarily increase shelter capacity by 50 beds.

The council voted 5-4 Monday night, with Councilors Mark Dion, Victoria Pelletier, Regina Phillips, Anna Trevorrow and Andrew Zarro opposing the measure and Councilors Pious Ali, April Fournier, Roberto Rodriguez and Mayor Kate Snyder in favor.

The order would have temporarily relaxed city codes and triggered hazard pay for those working at the center, but not elsewhere in the city.

The city has been grappling with a homelessness crisis with the number of tents consistently increasing in the city, despite efforts to move people into shelter. Twice last month there were protests in front of City Hall demonstrating against the encampment sweeps the city has carried out over the past year.

City Manager Danielle West originally suggested expanding the capacity at the Homeless Services Center in Riverton by 150 beds, but after an encampment workshop last week she lowered it to just 50 beds.

Some councilors expressed hesitant support, although there was more emphasis on finding longer-term solutions. Others argued that the proposal might not have the intended impact.


“Is it going to solve all of our problems? Nope. Do we need to continue to work to find solutions to collaborate with partners? Yes,” Snyder said in support of the proposal. “I can’t not do something in the face of this crisis.”

“This isn’t the best solution, but it is one avenue to create additional space,” Fournier said. “I have to exhaust every possible avenue to get people inside where it’s warm.”

Pelletier said she felt the proposal didn’t do enough to address current issues at the shelter.

“I can’t get there,” she said. “I think it would be great if we could address the significant barriers that exist in the Homeless Services Center before we decide to move forward with 50 beds. We’re doing these little Band-Aid things but we aren’t getting to the root of the issue.”

Those barriers include policies that prohibit drug use and don’t allow couples to stay together, and the trauma that makes staying in a shelter difficult for many homeless people.

Bob Avery, an outreach worker with Preble Street advocated for creating a task force to examine those barriers and create a plan to move homeless people from encampments into the shelter in tandem with the opening of the new shelter serving asylum seekers.


“Our fear is that if the emergency order does not … address these barriers, any additional capacity that is created will be underutilized,” Avery said. He also asked that the council postpone further sweeps until after the new asylum-seeker shelter opens.

Public commenters also referenced the recent seven-pillar proposal put forth by Preble Street and encouraged the council to do the best it could to follow that plan.

“That goes deeper than just emergency shelter. It talks about creating stable long-term housing options and making it easier for homeless people to get into the shelter,” said Jim Devine, an advocate with Homeless Voices for Justice. “With every complicated problem there are no real simple answers.”

Eamonn Dundon, advocacy director of the Portland Chamber of Commerce urged the council to pass the emergency order because he expects the state will clear the encampment at Marginal Way before winter.

“Do you want to have a plan in place so people at least have somewhere to go, or do you want to be scrambling at the last minute?” he asked.

The council’s rejection of the proposal leaves the city with no plan to address the encampment crisis heading into winter.



Earlier in the meeting, the council voted 6-3 in support of a resolution to deprioritize prosecuting individuals for using psychedelic plants and fungi. Ali, Fournier, Phillips, Pelletier, Rodriguez and Trevorrow supported the resolution. Dion, Zarro and Snyder voted against it.

Fournier, who brought forth the resolution on behalf of the Health and Human Services Committee, emphasized the longstanding tradition of plant medicine in indigenous communities.

“We’re not making any law changes or ordinance changes,” she said. “This is just to deprioritize this particular group.”

Corporation Counsel Michael Goldman said the resolution is “solely a statement of the council’s opinion on the issue.”

Portland is the first municipality in Maine to pass a resolution on the use of psychedelics.


The order means that police will not prioritize arresting individuals found with psychedelic plants and fungi. It does not mean that these plants and fungi are legal or would be sold in stores. Fournier said this would be a “mitigation measure” for the opioid crisis, referencing the use of psilocybin to treat opioid addiction.

Police Chief Mark Dubois said it will have little impact on police operations.

“This seems like a non-issue to me because I spoke to everyone on the police force that I could and nobody can remember arresting someone for this, ever,” he said.

Wendy Chapkis, a faculty member at the University of Southern Maine said safe access to psychedelics is important for therapeutic purposes.

“While these substances aren’t dangerous, they are powerful, and it’s important that people can consume them in safe and supportive environments,” she said.

Trevorrow, who serves on the Health and Human Services Committee along with Fournier and Pelletier, supported the resolution and emphasized the importance of city government leading the way on social change.


“I do myself feel proud that Portland has often been a leader on these issues,” she said. “I see this as something that is a groundswell for this issue in general as it spreads in public opinion.”

Pelletier spoke in support of the resolution “when we talk about harm reduction we are talking about things like this,” she said.

Dion argued the issue should be taken up by the state government.

“When we advance something like this at the municipal level we’ve left our lane,” he said. “I will not support this resolution because of the confusion it creates and the fact that the police really cannot tease out these things.”

Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, said there will be bills addressing the decriminalization of psychedelics in the next legislative session.

Snyder echoed Dion’s sentiment that the issue falls outside of the city’s purview. She also expressed skepticism that this is a priority for Portlanders.

“I don’t hear from folks in the community about this issue,” said Snyder.

The council voted on the issue via a “hand-raising vote.”

“We’re back in the business of taking votes where people raise their hand,” said Snyder, who explained that the practice is associated with in-person-only meetings. Snyder explained that the Council now is deciding on a meeting by meeting basis if remote participation in meetings will be permitted.

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