Gov. Janet Mills on Monday posted a group of photos on her personal Facebook page from her recent travels across the state and asked her followers to identify the spots.

Most of the photos were of idyllic places – mountains, lakes, the waterfront and a county fair. But her inclusion of two photos of a large homeless encampment on Marginal Way in Portland, which the state plans to clear early next month, has perplexed supporters and opponents alike.

Courtney Gary-Allen, an Augusta city councilor and an advocate for people who are homeless and struggling with substance use disorder, said she was meeting with an unhoused person in their tent on Monday when she saw the original post. She showed it to the individual, and their response was so powerful she wrote it down.

“They said, ‘Oh wow, we’re already down and out and, great, the governor just kicked us,’ ” Gary-Allen said. “That’s how it felt to someone who is unhoused.”

Jim Devine, an advocate with Homeless Voices for Justice, said he hadn’t seen the post. While he said he could not speak on behalf of the organization, he reacted strongly when it was described by a reporter. He said the post, which he later reviewed, seemed to reinforce the myth that it’s easy to be homeless.

“The whole thing makes me want to make a sarcastic remark about this being Vacationland,” Devine said. “But being homeless is no goddamn vacation, that’s for sure. It’s not a party. People are just trying to survive.”


Photos posted by Gov. Mills juxtaposed Maine’s rural scenery with photos of a homeless encampment in Portland.

A spokesperson for Mills declined to make her available for an interview to discuss what motivated her to juxtapose Portland’s homeless encampment with picturesque scenes in more rural areas of the state.

Spokesperson Ben Goodman said in a written statement that Mills occasionally posts photos of her travels throughout the state, showcasing Maine’s beauty. Her most recent post included photos of the encampment because she visited the site after attending an affordable housing conference in Portland last week, he said.

Goodman said the governor felt that the more scenic photos, “while beautiful, represented only the picturesque parts of Maine and did not capture the diversity of experiences and challenges that Maine people are facing, such as homelessness – homelessness that she had just seen firsthand. By including a picture of the encampment, she was attempting to acknowledge that, while Maine is beautiful in many respects, it, too, has its share of challenges that deserve recognition because both our strengths and our challenges are all a part of our state,” he said.

“The governor regrets that she was not clearer about the intent of her post, so she decided to remove it to avoid confusion,” he continued. “She remains deeply concerned about Maine’s housing crisis and homelessness, which is impacting middle-class and low-income Maine people across the state, and her administration will continue to work closely with municipalities and partners to address both.”

Officials at Preble Street, a nonprofit social service agency that works closely with Portland’s homeless community, declined to discuss the post. The agency’s coordinator of Homeless Voices For Justice, an advocacy group composed of people with experience being homeless, said the group had no comment.

Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, is sponsoring a bill that would prevent the clearing of homeless encampments – something that the state plans to do at Marginal Way on Nov. 1 because it’s on a state-owned parking lot. He seemed to give the governor the benefit of the doubt, choosing to focus on her recent visit to the encampment.


“I think it’s good the governor visited the site,” Lookner said in an interview. “She can see how dire of a situation it is, so hopefully that will result in a willingness to act.”

Although he didn’t know why the governor posted the photos, Lookner said the post represents the uncomfortable truth that Maine is beginning to struggle with issues that have traditionally been associated with more heavily populated states.

“Maine likes to think of itself as a state of pristine nature and the fact we’re having these encampments kind of challenges that idea,” he said. “Today we do have those kinds of problem and it might be challenging for some folks to recognize that Maine is changing and along with those changes comes these problems.”

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder was not available to be interviewed and a city spokesperson did not respond when asked about the post Tuesday.

Encampments in Portland have prompted strong debate among policy makers, advocates and businesses.

Advocates are trying to stop state and city officials from clearing encampments when there is no other place for people to go, saying it only further traumatizes people who live there. But area residents and business owners say they feel unsafe near the encampments, as they witness fights, assaults, open drug use and drug dealing.


Republicans amplified Mills’ post in an effort to tarnish the governor. The Maine Republican Party posted a screenshot of Mill’s post and pointed blame at her for the homelessness crisis, which is affecting communities across the country.

“Janet Mills has had as much of a hand in creating the Portland homeless encampments as anyone,” they wrote. “Now she’s posting strange things on Facebook highlighting them?”

But Gary-Allen, the advocate, defended Mills’ record of supporting policies aimed at helping address the shortage of emergency shelter beds, increasing the supply of affordable housing and supporting harm reduction policies that aim to keep people alive until they’re ready to enter treatment for substance abuse.

“At the end of the day, she has been a good governor on these issues,” she said. “She debates the commas and the periods, not about whether these folks have the right to live.”

Gary-Allen said she was disgusted that Republicans tried to score political points.

“The folks in those tents are not political pawns and we should not be using them to take shots at anyone,” she said. “That’s what makes me angry.”

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