A homeless man who asked to not be identified carries a mattress away from an encampment at the Fore River Parkway Trail in September as Portland police and city employees clear the area. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Maine Department of Transportation plans to sweep homeless encampments along Interstate 295 in Portland on Friday morning.

People living near exits 5, 6 and 7 were given 24-hour notice Thursday morning that they’ll be removed.

The agency’s “standard practice” is to keep state-owned rights-of-way clear, department spokesman Paul Merrill said in a text message Thursday night.

“Having people so close to traffic is a safety hazard,” he said.

In early November, the department dismantled a homeless encampment at the state-owned Marginal Way park and ride. Advocates showed up to make sure possessions were treated well following earlier sweeps of encampments at Fore River and the Bayside Trail that drew complaints that belongings were being thrown away.

As winter sets in the question of where homeless people will go becomes more vexing. The city’s dashboard on Thursday night showed 229 tents in Portland, with nearly three-fourths on city property and the remainder on private and state land.


That is up more than 100 since Nov. 1, when about 120 tents were cleared from Marginal Way and Somerset Street. Many of the homeless said then that they would relocate to an encampment under the Casco Bay Bridge.

State action against encampments near I-295 is not the first. The Maine Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety in late August cleared an encampment of around 45 tents near Deering Oaks park south of I-295. It had been one of the largest homeless encampments in the city.

The sweeps have drawn pushback from community groups that work with homeless people. Portland’s City Council two weeks ago rejected a proposal to permit public camping through April and earlier approved a plan to temporarily add 50 beds to the Homeless Services Center in Riverton to bring more people into shelters before the worst of the winter sets in.

City officials have said that the opening of a 179-bed shelter for asylum seekers will free up space at the Homeless Services Center.

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