Ryan, who did not want to share his last name, warms up food Monday night at the Commercial Street homeless encampment. He said he moved there from a campsite in the woods on the city’s outskirts to be closer to services in Portland. He said he would love to have an apartment but it would help if the city could create legal places to camp, with portable bathrooms and limited numbers of campers. Michele McDonald/Photo Editor

The Portland City Council voted Monday night to declare a limited state of emergency so it can temporarily expand capacity by 50 beds at the Homeless Services Center in the city’s Riverton neighborhood.

The vote was 6-2, with Councilors Pious Ali, Mark Dion, April Fournier, Regina Phillips, Roberto Rodriguez and Mayor Kate Snyder voting in favor, and Councilors Victoria Pelletier and Anna Trevorrow voting against. Councilor Andrew Zarro did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Work on the expansion will begin promptly and is expected to take about four weeks.

Dion, who was elected mayor last week, has voted against this proposal twice before but reversed course Monday. He said that in the past, he hoped voting against the proposal would push the city manager to consider other neighborhoods for an expansion – the shelter is in Dion’s district, and there was opposition when it was originally built. But with the weather getting colder, the situation has become more dire, he said.

“I think it’s in the best interest for the unhoused to have an opportunity to seek shelter first; other options may develop at some future time, but this is an emergency,” Dion said.

The expansion will last at least until Feb. 5. The council will then consider whether to continue the expansion or end it in February.


City Manager Danielle West originally brought the proposal up for a vote on Oct. 2, but it failed, 5-4.

But Phillips, who originally voted against the motion, asked the council to reconsider, explaining that she would change her vote after the city’s Health and Human Services department indicated that more people were leaving encampments and accepting shelter beds than were earlier this fall. The second vote, on Oct. 16, also failed by a 4-4 tie.

There was little discussion about the proposal Monday night, but Pelletier and Trevorrow have said they don’t believe it addresses barriers to entry at the shelter and may be ineffective at getting people to move from encampments into the shelter.

West also told the council that the planned shelter for asylum seekers will open its doors on schedule on Nov. 29. This is expected to free up about 100 beds at the city’s existing homeless shelter, in addition to the 50 beds that will be added following the council’s vote Monday.

The number of tents in several encampments around the city has been increasing, despite efforts to move people into shelters. The city’s largest encampment at Marginal Way was cleared a few weeks ago, but an encampment beneath the Casco Bay Bridge has grown.

Monday night’s meeting was held in hybrid form for the first time since September, with Fournier voting remotely because of illness. City staff and members of the public also participated remotely.


The council also heard a first read of a controversial proposed amendment to temporarily suspend the city’s camping ban through April, effectively stopping encampment sweeps during that time. The amendment was introduced last week by Trevorrow and Rodriguez and received significant backlash from city staff. There was no public comment, no discussion and no vote, as is standard for first reads.

Ahead of the meeting, a crowd of about 50 people gathered outside City Hall. They stood drinking coffee and holding candles and signs urging councilors to “stop the sweeps.” The vigil, organized by Jess Falero, was held in support of suspending the camping ban. Newly elected Councilor Kate Sykes was at the vigil. The amendment will go to a vote on Nov. 20 – the council’s final meeting before the new mayor, Dion, and new city councilors, Anna Bullett and Sykes, take office.


The council also voted on a stadium-use agreement between the city and the United Soccer League to allow a professional soccer team – United Portland – to practice and host games at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The agreement passed unanimously.

There was overwhelming support for the agreement. Small-business owners and local players and coaches spoke at length about the benefits of establishing a professional soccer team in Portland.


Ronan Moss, captain of the Portland High School boys soccer team, spoke in support of the agreement on behalf of the team.

“When we heard about it, we were all so excited, just to see those professional players in our hometown and have them as role models,” he said. Moss’ team will be sharing the stadium with the professional team – something the team is excited about, he added.

A handful of people were concerned about the potential carbon footprint stemming from necessary updates to the stadium, and about the potential for the team to fail, leaving the city hurting economically after investing in it.

Karen Snyder, of Portland, said she was concerned about the financial impact on residents.

“It puts a lot of pressure on the taxpayers. There is concern that the residents who live here have not been involved in this decision,” she said. She advocated for postponing the vote to give residents a chance to learn more about the impact the lease agreement could have on taxpayers.

The council briefly discussed the agreement before voting, trying to address those concerns and how the stadium will be shared between Portland United and other community groups.


“I feel very confident in our department’s leadership,” Fournier said.

“I do believe that we know how to do this, and we’ve been able to do it well so far,” she said of existing lease agreements between professional sports teams such as the Sea Dogs and other community groups.

Earlier in the meeting, the council voted on a resolution put forth by Ali showing support for an assault rifle ban and other gun regulations at the state level. The resolution passed unanimously and will be sent to the State House.

The council also formally thanked city first responders who assisted in Lewiston after the shootings that claimed 18 lives on Oct. 25. Mayor Snyder read the names of each individual who went to Lewiston to help, including firefighters, police officers and others. The first responders present at the meeting, most of whom were in uniform, stood, and the room gave them a standing ovation.

This story was updated on Nov. 14 to correct information about the city’s hazard pay policy. The city will not pay shelter employees hazard pay during the emergency expansion. 

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