Zachary Moore, a volunteer recovery coach, hugs James Williams, a homeless man, as MaineDOT workers clear the encampment at Marginal Way in Portland on Wednesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The scene at the Marginal Way park & ride was relatively calm early Wednesday morning as city and state bulldozers lined up around a homeless encampment there.

A U-Haul truck idled in the center of the camp while people loaded up their things before workers began clearing the encampment.

The truck had been rented by Bill Higgins, executive director of Homeless Advocacy for All. He wrote on Facebook the night before that he would be helping move people from Marginal Way and Somerset Street to another encampment under the Casco Bay Bridge.

Outreach workers from Preble Street and the city handed out coffees and snacks while others helped carry tarps, fans and bins of clothes from tents into the truck.

Jersey, 49, who declined to give her last name, said she has been camping at the park & ride for months. She has had a housing voucher for about a month but she hasn’t been able to find any apartments she can afford in the city.

The sweep was difficult for her, she said. She was stressed and had been packing all day. She said she didn’t know where she would go.


“I hate going where everyone else is going, but I also want to go somewhere where I feel safe,” she said. Her camp at the Fore River trail was swept in September.

“I don’t understand the reasoning, like there’s not room for everyone at the shelter,” she said.

Carol Garvan, legal director at the ACLU of Maine, said the organization came to “closely monitor” what was happening because they are concerned about the encampment sweeps. The group had called for the state and city to halt their plans to clear the encampments.

Madden Messer, 14, a freshman at Baxter Academy, confronts a city worker who was part of a homeless encampment cleanup effort on Somerset Street on Wednesday, saying the homeless people in the area had no place to go. Messer and her friends – also students at Baxter Academy – stayed at Somerset Street for hours, helping people care for small wounds and offering food and helping to moving items. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“These kinds of displacements are basically penalizing people for being in a place when they have no choice of other places to go,” said Garvan.

She said she was watching to make sure people were being treated respectfully and that their belongings were being kept safe. Past sweeps of encampments at Fore River and the Bayside Trail drew criticism after people complained that valuable belongings were being thrown away.



As state Department of Transportation workers cleared dozens of tents at its park & ride lot on Marginal Way, just a few blocks away city crews were clearing a smaller encampment on Somerset Street, where the scene was more contentious.

Madden Messer, 14, a freshman at Baxter Academy was at Somerset Street helping people load up their things into trucks. She says she spends her lunch break at the encampment every day bringing food and other resources to the people who live there.

Paul Cann, 49, who is homeless, sits in a lawn chair near Somerset Street in Portland while students from Baxter Academy tend to several wounds on his hands on Wednesday. The students helped Cann pack up his campsite at an encampment that spanned a block between Chestnut and Elm streets and was cleared by the city. From left: Ezra Moody, Jenna Andrews, Ariana Ray, Cann and Madden Messer. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“They’ve changed me a lot. I know every one of them, and these are very good people. If they had another place to go they would go there,” said Messer.

When the team from the city arrived and began clearing things, Messer was upset, yelling at the city workers that the people living there have nowhere else to go. She and her friends – also students at Baxter Academy – stayed at Somerset Street for hours, helping people care for small wounds and offering food and help moving items.

People have been camping at the park & ride lot for months. In August, the state blocked off half of it so commuters could continue to park on one side while campers occupied the other.

The encampment grew exponentially after the city cleared another encampment along the nearby Bayside Trail this spring. As of Wednesday morning, the city’s homelessness dashboard showed there were 55 tents on state property near the park & ride lot, another 64 were on city property in that area and seven on private property.


The city’s Encampment Crisis Response Team, created in the wake of the Bayside Trail sweep, has tried to connect outreach workers with those living at the camps to find them more permanent shelter, or at least get them into the city’s Homeless Services Center in Riverside. The team had struggled to convince people to go into the center and the number of tents in the city has continued to climb, but over the last few weeks the city has said more people from the encampments are going to the shelter.

City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said in an email that since Sept. 15, 112 shelter beds have been offered to people living in the encampments and 16 of those beds have been accepted.

Over the weekend, the city started holding empty beds at the shelter so that more would be available on Wednesday morning. There were 14 beds available at the shelter Wednesday morning, Grondin said.


By 4 p.m. most tents had been cleared from Somerset Street and Marginal Way.

Paul Cann, 49, who had been camping on Somerset Street, said he didn’t know where he would go but he thought he’d likely end up under the Casco Bay Bridge. As he walked along the sidewalk outside Noyes Storage cleaning up used needles, he said he felt “betrayed” by the city.


Paul Cann, 49, picks up his belongings at a homeless encampment on Somerset Street in Portland on Wednesday as city workers begin cleaning the site. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“Everybody has to go to the bridge if they want to camp; I guess they think out of sight out of mind, people can’t see us so much under the bridge,” he said.

Cann said he has lived in Portland since 2000 and has been homeless on and off for about 15 years. He says he’s had trouble finding housing because he has been charged with assault in the past and he says landlords don’t want to rent to him because of it.

He said he was cleared from the Deering Oaks encampment last year and then stayed at the Marginal Way encampment for a few months before moving to Somerset Street. He said he left Marginal Way because conditions at that encampment were stressful, people fought and stole thing from one another. He attributes this to difficult living conditions, mental health struggles and drug use.

“A lot of these people are doing drugs not because they want to get high but because they need to cope with these conditions, it’s unbelievable conditions out here,” said Cann.

He worries that things are going to get worse “with everybody crammed in one spot under the bridge.”

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