City workers cleared Portland’s largest homeless encampment early Tuesday morning despite an attempt by advocates, faith leaders and other protesters to stop the sweep by forming a human chain.

Standing at the edge of Harbor View Memorial Park, Matt Brown of Hope Squad Maine checked in with people living in the tents as other volunteers handed out hot chocolate.

During past sweeps, Brown has helped people move their belongings to another camp, but there are no other encampments to go to now, he said, noting that some of the people he works with have been through five or six sweeps.

“At this point, I think people are resigned to the fact that the city’s not providing them much of a real choice. So they’re frustrated. But it’s freezing cold and I think a lot of them realize that (the shelter) might be the only viable option at this point,” he said. “I can’t imagine how exhausting it is to continually go through this.”

Portland police officers look on as people pack their belongings before the city cleared the homeless encampment at Harbor View Memorial Park on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Portland has sought to clear the camp at Harbor View for weeks, ever since a large number of beds opened up at the Homeless Services Center in Riverside after asylum seekers were moved to a new shelter. The city originally planned to dismantle the encampment on Dec. 19 but that was pushed back after the City Council passed a resolution seeking a delay. Then the sweep planned for Dec. 28 was postponed because of rain.


The city counted 70 tents at the park Tuesday morning, but about a third of them appeared to be empty, spokesperson Jessica Grondin said. Outreach workers from the city and social services agencies were on hand to talk with people about their options and help them move to the shelter, where 86 beds were open – 57 for men and 29 for women.

As of Tuesday night, staff at the city’s Homeless Services Center on Riverside Street had completed intakes and assigned beds to 17 people from the Harbor View encampment, Grondin said. That left 51 beds available to people seeking shelter, including 26 beds for women and 25 for men, she said.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to be at the shelter on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. offering clients assistance with services such as MaineCare and SNAP benefits.

Portland city workers clear a large homeless encampment at Harbor View Park on Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“To our knowledge, the HSC is the first shelter in the state to have DHHS coverage embedded into the shelter with this level of services provided,” Grondin said. The shelter also will offer on-site medication-assisted treatment at a clinic staffed by the Greater Portland Health Clinic.


Before city crews arrived, Paul Hooper, 42, stood near a shopping cart full of his belongings and watched the protesters gathered on the sidewalk below. He said he has stayed at the park off and on for a few months. He recently lost many of his belongings at another encampment and has spent the last few nights sleeping under the cart.


Hooper didn’t plan to go to the city shelter.

“I’ll just go to the next place,” he said.

Jason, who declined to provide his last name, center, breaks down a tent with help from Jason Jarvis, left, and Julia Cartonio as the city clears the encampment where he was living on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Nearby, a 24-year-old homeless man, who declined to share his name to protect his privacy, helped a friend pack his tent and belongings in a wagon. The man said he camps in a different part of the city and has no plans to stay in the shelter because he has a hard time trusting people and doesn’t feel safe there. He also worries about losing his belongings.

“What I have is my life,” he said.

Mayor Mark Dion arrived as police and city workers prepared to start clearing everyone out. He said the city has been working with community partners to find options for people and encourage them to go to the shelter.

“They need to go into the shelter. We’re not going to allow people – because they choose not to go into the shelter – to just violate city ordinance and risk their own health and their own safety by staying out here,” he said.


In the park, people sorted through their campsites, packing belongings in crates and wagons and piling trash to the side. Outreach workers stopped to talk to people and to help carry boxes to waiting vans.

With police officers watching, workers used rakes to pile trash, tents, debris and abandoned belongings until they could be scooped up and removed.

While the hill above him was cleared, Anthony, who declined to give his last name, sorted through tools and other items outside a large tent on a wooden platform. He said he’s been homeless for a long time and has been at Harbor View since September, when an encampment along the Fore River Parkway was cleared. He plans to stay temporarily at a friend’s house because he doesn’t want to go to the shelter.

“I know outside better than I do inside,” he said.


Shay Dufour, a recovery coach who was previously homeless, was at the park before dawn to protest the sweep and support members of the homeless community, which she calls her “second family.” She said many of the people she knows at the encampment struggle with mental illness and substance use disorder, but should still be treated with compassion and respect.


Tents are lifted into a dump truck as the city clears a homeless encampment under the Casco Bay Bridge on Tuesday morning. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“These are human beings that bleed the same blood that we all do,” she said. “Just sweeping them is going to traumatize them more than they’ve already been traumatized.”

Tuesday’s human blockade was the first significant protest at the site of an encampment since the city began regularly clearing them in 2023. Other protests have been held outside City Hall.

Kai Grenon, second from right, holds a sign during a protest against the city’s plan to clear a large homeless encampment at Harbor View Park on Tuesday. Grenon found housing a year ago after more than a decade of homelessness. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

More than 50 protesters stood along the sidewalk, moving occasionally to block paths through the park. But their presence did not stop workers from clearing the encampment. Nearly two hours after protesters arrived, city staff began their work at the top of the park, near the Casco Bay Bridge.

Police officers ticketed about 20 cars parked in an area along Commercial Street that was posted as an emergency no-parking zone. A short time later, tow trucks arrived and began towing cars when people refused to move them, Grondin said. No one was arrested.

“Sleep well tonight, buddy,” a homeless man yelled to a tow truck driver.

Advocates and outreach workers have been critical of the city’s plans and repeated delays, which they say wasted resources and increased the homeless community’s distrust of city officials. City Councilors Anna Trevorrow and Victoria Pelletier, who represent the area around the park, wrote in an op-ed last week that they oppose the sweeps, calling them “antiquated.”


The Rev. Peter Swarr of Trinity Episcopal Church in Portland was among those watching Tuesday’s sweep. He said he wanted to support the homeless community and outreach workers.

These sweeps “are creating terror. We’re creating fear,” Swarr said. “We’re creating this sense of almost being hunted.”

The Right Rev. Thomas Brown, the Episcopal bishop of Maine, said there are no easy answers, but people need to continue to work together to find solutions.

“It’s Jan. 2 and we are displacing people from what, for some of us, we may not define it as home, but for people who live here, it is their home,” he said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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