Linneah and John Lombard sit inside their tent on Monday morning after filling bags with their personal belongings before Biddeford officials came to clear the homeless encampment they had been living in. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

BIDDEFORD — With some of her belongings already stuffed into bags, Linneah Lombard took a short break from packing to cuddle her cat. Around her, other people who have been living in an encampment next to the Saco River broke down tents and loaded bags onto wagons and carts.

A half-dozen police officers stood watch, along with social workers and other city employees, as the encampment was disassembled. Many of the homeless people living at the camp have been there since last year.

City officials had allowed the encampment to stay while they tried to find a way to offer indoor shelter. But with a new temporary shelter now open at a local nonprofit agency, the City Council approved a July 8 deadline to move people out of encampments on public property in the city.

On Monday morning, the people in the largest encampment on a dirt lot on Water Street next to Mechanics Park – there were around 60 people there at the peak a few months ago – were up early and packing their possessions before police arrived.

Lombard, who came to Biddeford from Lewiston about a month ago, said she and her husband, John, don’t plan to go to the new shelter. They said it’s not a good option for their two cats, who they say have helped them stay sober for over a year.

“We’re invisible. We’re seen, but not seen. We’re seen as being an eyesore, but not as people trying to live,” Lombard, 25, said. “Nobody understands they’re one paycheck away from living in this tent.”


Biddeford officials walk through the homeless encampment on Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


Police Chief JoAnne Fisk said the city began notifying people at the Water Street encampments and other places across the city weeks ago that Monday was the deadline to move off city property. The city offered new recycling bins – each with an identifying number and lock – to people to store their belongings for the next three weeks.

Fisk said Monday afternoon that the clearing of the Water Street encampment went “incredibly well” and was very orderly. By midafternoon, there were eight to 10 people still there packing up their belongings, but everyone was cooperating, she said. An excavation company will be brought in this week to clean up the debris.

The temporary shelter opened Monday at the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, which for years has been running an overnight warming shelter during the winter. Overflow space will be available at the Second Congregational Church, if needed. The shelter will be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and the space also is open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, showers and for people to work on housing and job searches.

Biddeford City Councilor Neva Gross, left, listens while Seeds of Hope Executive Director Vassie Fowler explains how the main floor of its building, a former church, will be converted into an overnight shelter for up to 40 people. Work on the building began Monday using money the city allocated for the project. Gillian Graham/Staff Writer

The initial cost will be about $319,000 to cover staffing, operational costs and supplies. The estimated daily cost to run the shelter is $1,250 per facility, city officials said. They say there is space to accommodate everyone at the encampment who wants shelter – somewhere between 40 and 60 people.

Anyone who wants to stay at the facility in Biddeford will have to go through the General Assistance intake process, which can also qualify them for assistance for food and other basic needs. The city will establish a daily fee to charge the GA program to cover some of the cost of providing shelter, and the state will reimburse 70%. Portland uses the same approach.


Seeds of Hope also will receive $788,000 from the city to renovate the main floor of its building into a shelter space for 30 to 40 people. That funding is from federal Community Development Block Grant money that the City Council has already designated for housing solutions. Three bathrooms will be added during the renovation, which began Monday.

Until that work is finished, people staying at the shelter will use the same zero-gravity chairs the center uses for the winter warming shelter in the community room in the basement, where it offers meals and other programming.

Vassie Fowler, Seeds of Hope executive director, said the situation isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the “inhumane” conditions she saw at the encampment. She expects about 20 people to stay at the shelter Monday night, most of whom were living at the encampment, she said.

“People should not be living outdoors,” she said. “We’re going to make it work.”


Tammy Harvison, who founded the group The White Butterfly With a Cause, has spent seven months helping people at the encampment with food, laundry and searches for housing and rehabilitation services.


She said she is angry about the city’s plan and doesn’t believe the shelter can support as many people as city officials say it will.

Harvison said the city hasn’t done as much as officials say to support the homeless community. They begged to have the portable toilet and dumpster emptied regularly to keep the encampment clean, but the city didn’t follow through, she said.

Tammy Harvison of The White Butterfly With a Cause, left, hugs Catherine Seavey as she was on her way out of a homeless encampment in Biddeford where she had been living. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Catherine Seavey said the conditions at the encampment are inhumane, with a portable toilet that’s always full and piles of trash around the dumpster.

As Harvison watched people packing up, she said closing the encampment is wrong. She said many of them will move to a new location – she wouldn’t say where – and she’ll continue to support them there.

“I’m heartbroken. This devastates me,” she said. “It’s not fair. It’s inhumane and it’s wrong.”

Seavey said she’s considering going to the shelter, but doesn’t like that she’ll have to leave every morning. She thinks most of the people will find places to sleep downtown instead.


“People are going to be sleeping at City Hall,” she said. “They’re going to be sleeping on the old courthouse steps.”

John Lombard throws away trash as city officials arrived to clear a homeless encampment Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Rita McDaniel, who lived in the encampment for months, said she had a Section 8 housing voucher but lost it when she couldn’t find an apartment. She said going to Seeds of Hope’s shelter isn’t an option because she wasn’t allowed in there before. She said she’s trying to figure out her next step, but isn’t getting any help from the city.

“The town said they’re helping us, but what are they doing?” she said. “It’s pretty rude how they’re doing this when it’s so hard to find a place.”

As police officers and outreach workers moved from tent to tent at the encampment to offer trash bags, one woman started yelling at them to stay away while she sorted her belongings.

“I am not trash. I’m not losing any more of my stuff,” she yelled. “I don’t need trash bags. My stuff is not trash.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.