A man carries his belongings from a tent site last month as Portland police and city employees clear a homeless encampment at the Fore River Parkway Trail. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer, file

Lawmakers from Portland and Bangor want to end the practice of periodically clearing homeless encampments by creating sanctioned sites for camping on public land or by simply prohibiting the sweeps.

The proposals are being brought forward by Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, and Rep. Ambureen Rana, D-Bangor, who both live in cities that have been hard hit in recent months by high numbers of people who have no homes and, for a variety of reasons, sleep in tents or makeshift shelters rather than emergency shelters.

Many of those people congregate for safety and community, but the encampments are periodically cleared out by city and state officials, effectively forcing the occupants to move and establish encampments elsewhere.

A list of bill requests for the upcoming legislative session posted online Friday contained the titles from the two lawmakers: An Act to Establish Sanctioned Areas for Emergency Encampments in Certain Municipalities by Lookner and An Act to Prohibit Clearing Encampments of Unhoused Individuals by Rana.

The text of the bills has not yet been submitted, and they must be approved by legislative leaders in order to be taken up, but Lookner and Rana said they are hoping their proposals will help address one of the state’s most pressing issues.

“We’re in a crisis when it comes to homelessness, and despite the Legislature’s best efforts, solutions will take time,” Lookner said. “In the meantime, it’s not helping anyone to just move camps from one site to another. You will have people camping no matter what.”


Lookner said his proposal would aim to designate state land for homeless encampments in places such as Portland and Bangor that have dealt with a rise in unsheltered homelessness and people living in tents.

According to a Portland dashboard, there were 282 tents with people living in them around the city at the end of last week. State officials have said they plan to remove one of the largest homeless encampments at a Department of Transportation park and ride on Marginal Way on Nov. 1.

Lookner envisions allowing camping only at night in an effort to balance the needs of people who are homeless with those of nearby residents and businesses, though he acknowledged that it’s not a perfect solution.

“I’m just saying this is a workable, immediate and better outcome than just sweeping encampments,” Lookner said.

Rana has proposed two bills regarding the sweeping of encampments – one that would prohibit clearings outright and another that would prohibit clearings without providing alternative housing options. She said it’s likely the two could be combined.

“This is absolutely an emergency,” Rana said. “As you’ve seen in Portland and as we’ve seen in Bangor, this is an issue that definitely needs to be addressed this session and that is time-sensitive.”


Rana said she has been working with advocates and homeless people on the proposals and will seek to develop them further if legislative leaders agree to take them up.

She said one advocate she has been working with has said people living in encampments should be able to have autonomy over where they live, though she recognizes that a proposal to prohibit encampment sweeps is likely to face pushback from municipalities.

“Our hope is to work with and be in communication with municipalities and the Maine Municipal Association and, before we start writing the law, to let them know our intentions,” Rana said. “We want to work with them every step of the way and make sure they hear where we’re coming from and hear their concerns. That’s our hope for the process.”

Similarly, Rana wants to work with advocates and homeless people to determine what housing options could be offered to people in encampments.

“Ideally, these would be spaces that are equipped to provide services to people,” she said. “It’s not enough to just have a roof over your head, especially when you’re coming from a place of crisis and instability. We want to make sure people have access to services so they can maintain a roof over their heads once they get it.”

Asked about the proposals Friday, Portland city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said policy positions are determined by the City Council’s Legislative and Nominating Committee, which hasn’t had the chance yet to review them.


Grondin said the committee is next scheduled to meet Oct. 17, but it’s unlikely the proposals would be taken up if the full text of the bills isn’t available.


Advocates for the homeless have expressed opposition to recent encampment sweeps in Portland, saying sweeps just shift public health and safety concerns from one location to another without providing a solution.

“The solution to the growing number of unsheltered people here in Maine is to create an improved continuum of shelter and housing options in partnership with health care,” Andrew Bove, vice president for social work at the nonprofit social services provider Preble Street, said in a statement Friday.

“This requires a collaboration of federal, state, municipal and private efforts. Broadly, we are opposed to the idea that managed campsites are an acceptable solution; we need to keep demanding that there are enough shelter beds to meet the need and that the shelter services our community provides are low-barrier, accessible and evidenced-based. If we want people living in tents to access shelter, it is critical that the services provided are delivered with their needs and voices at the forefront.”

Marshall Mercer, executive director of the nonprofit Hope Brokers Inc., which works with and advocates for marginalized populations in the Augusta area, has been working with Rana on her bills.

Mercer said there are many reasons why people end up at encampments, including drug use, difficult family situations and the simple lack of housing.

“I lean towards completely prohibiting (sweeps),” Mercer said. “But I’m for meeting in the middle. That’s why we put two bills out. Personally, I would rather (sweeps) be illegal, but I understand why it happens. If we’re going to do it, we should have alternative places for people to go.”

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