Bruce Cavallaro sits in the Department of Transportation park-and-ride lot on Marginal Way in Portland in June. He moved there after the city cleared out the Bayside Trail encampment in May. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

One of Portland’s largest homeless encampments will be removed in four weeks, potentially leaving dozens of people without a place to live as winter approaches unless the city and its partners can move them into emergency shelters or to other housing alternatives.

A spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation confirmed on Wednesday that the agency will remove the homeless encampment at the state-owned Marginal Way park-and-ride lot on Nov. 1. The sweep will be conducted in conjunction with the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The decision to restore the parking lot to exclusively park-and-ride use comes after the Department of Transportation permitted homeless individuals to camp in the lot for nearly six months.

“The use of the park-and-ride lot by unhoused individuals increased significantly following the closure (by the city) of the Bayside Trail encampment in Portland,” department spokesman Paul Merrill said in a statement. “On Aug. 3, MDOT temporarily modified the lot to preserve half for parking and half for encampments to mitigate the safety risks as the city of Portland’s Encampment Crisis Response Team continued its process to address the parking lot’s encampments.”

The city of Portland removed the Bayside Trail encampment in May after it grew in size and drew complaints from nearby Bayside businesses that said the encampment was presenting significant public health and safety concerns. Dozens of tents were removed during the sweep.

Merrill said the state’s announcement should not come as a surprise, adding that the state never intended to allow campers to remain on Marginal Way permanently. Signs were posted weeks ago at the park-and-ride lot warning that camping would eventually be prohibited, he said.


“Today, the MDOT is establishing the Nov. 1 deadline to provide an additional four weeks for unhoused individuals to prepare for the lot’s restoration,” Merrill said. “Establishing the Nov. 1 deadline also prevents the disruption of unhoused individuals during the winter months and allows MDOT to prepare for its winter maintenance responsibilities at the lot.”

The department notified the city of Portland about its plans, Merrill said, adding that the city and community service providers will continue to work with the homeless individuals to provide offers of housing or shelter as the Nov. 1 removal date approaches.

According to the City’s Unhoused Community Dashboard, there are 81 tents currently on state-owned property in Portland, 144 tents on city-owned property, and 36 on private property making for a total of 261 tents citywide. The dashboard does not provide details on the number of homeless individuals living in those tents.

A homeless encampment at the Department of Transportation Park & Ride lot on Marginal Way in Portland on June 6. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The announcement that the lot will be cleared comes as the city continues to grapple with a growing homelessness crisis. Tents are increasing despite efforts by the city to move people into shelters. On Monday night, the City Council voted 5-4 to reject a proposal to declare a limited state of emergency at the Homeless Services Center on Riverside Street. The proposal would have allowed the city to temporarily increase shelter capacity at the center by 50 beds.

The council’s rejection of the proposal leaves the city with no plan to address the encampment crisis heading into winter. Encampment sweeps such as the one planned by the Department of Transportation have been criticized by the public. There have been two protests recently, including one in September outside Portland City Hall, where roughly 100 people gathered to call on the city to pass an ordinance banning future sweeps until longer-term solutions to the housing crisis are in place.

City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said in an email that the Department of Transportation notified the city on Tuesday of its plan to convert the Marginal Way park-and-ride lot back to its original use on Nov. 1.

“The city’s Encampment  Crisis Response Team (ECRT) is committed to continuing to work with unhoused individuals at the Park & Ride encampment until that date, and hope to successfully encourage as many individuals as possible to transition to emergency shelter or other housing alternatives,” Grondin said.

After Nov. 1, the city will designate the Marginal Way lot as an “emphasis area,” meaning that any unauthorized campsites that are constructed there will be removed.

Representatives from several of the city’s community partners serve on the ECRT including: Community Housing of Maine, Mercy Hospital, Opportunity Alliance, Preble Street, Amistad, Through These Doors, Spurwink, Greater Portland Health, Maine Housing, Greater Portland Peer Services, Milestone Recovery, Grace Street Ministry, Maine Health and United Way of Southern Maine.

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