We are nearing a record of 300 tents pitched and campers living in squalor throughout this beautiful city. If decisive action isn’t taken soon, Portland might not find its way back.

I speak from experience. I moved here two years ago from Portland, Oregon, where a feckless council and mayor allowed similar open air drug markets to proliferate. It was a gem of a city with clean, expansive parks and a bike lane network connecting all quadrants. The downtown was once referred to as “Portland’s living room” as residents of all ages fully utilized and enjoyed the public spaces.

Filthy encampments began sprouting in every corner and crevice of the city, and public spaces became unusable and dangerous. The city never got a handle on it, and Portland (West) is unrecognizable to me today.

City leaders enabled illegal behavior (drug dealing, shooting up on the street, indecent exposure, littering, assault, theft, blocking traffic, etc.) and otherwise kicked the can down the road. Does this sound familiar? I am watching the exact same scenario unfold here in Portland, and it breaks my heart. It’s a poignant object lesson, if city leaders want to heed it.

I hope our new mayor and council can focus on problem-solving and enforcing the law when it comes to camping in public spaces. People who know they can come to Portland and live with zero accountability for their actions are going to continue to come here unless the city takes a hard line and enforces the law. We have created a parallel society where one group of people are given carte blanche to break laws.

Why do campers set up here? Because, ultimately, the city allows it. This burden needs to be shared by communities across Maine and any neighboring states whose citizens flock to Portland. City leaders must stanch the flow of additional people. Our resources are strained to the hilt. Then, the city/state can focus on the already unwieldy number of those in need and work to build additional shelters, open rehab centers, craft public-private partnerships to create affordable housing, and rally the regional health care systems to share the heavy burden of those affected by mental illness.

For years, I have listened to city and state government officials on the West Coast virtue signal their compassion to continue to enable people to live in tents because society had failed them with skyrocketing housing costs and an epidemic of drug addiction and mental illness (or a conflation of the two). Society has failed them, but we continue to fail those who are homeless by enabling behavior that will further entrench this lifestyle. The argument has worn thin. It’s not compassionate – full stop – to allow people to live in tents, with nowhere to wash themselves or use the toilet, with no easy access to clean water or food, all while encouraging unlawful behavior.

And, what is often missed in this conversation is regard for people who live and work in Portland. We deserve to reap the benefits of paying taxes and abiding by laws. Business owners shouldn’t have to be on guard for the safety of themselves and their employees or the security of their property.

We, too, deserve to live in a city that is clean, beautiful, safe and thriving.

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