Home News Portland policy aims to improve response to homeless camps on public property

Portland policy aims to improve response to homeless camps on public property

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Rebecca Descoteau has been camping around Portland last year.

“It’s desolate here,” said the homeless Descoto. She said she had moved to various places, such as the suburbs of Deering Oaks Park, where she was staying in a tent for the past few days.

The 30-year-old said she prefers camping to shelter. This exacerbated her depression and anxiety, and she said she couldn’t sleep safely near strangers. However, being outside also comes with challenges.

Rebecca Descoto, 30, who moved from New Hampshire to Portland about a year ago, is near a camp in Portland. Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

“Being homeless is mentally exhausting and desperate enough to lose things,” said Descoteau, who explained an example of being kicked out by someone else on the street. Private land near the parking lot where she was camping her last winter.

The city does not track the number of unauthorized campsites, such as the campsite where Descoto is staying, but authorities say the weather is warmer and the number of homeless people in Portland continues to grow. He says he is aware that the number of such campgrounds is increasing.

“Staff have definitely seen individuals camping in different places,” said interim mayor Daniel West. “There are certain spots we notice and those individuals are trying to find another space. There is an increase towards the summer, which generally increases the number of homeless people. I think that is one of the reasons. “

The city currently provides shelter for 506 homeless people, including 114 at Oxford Street Shelter, 392 at hotels and 1,002 in families, most of whom are asylum seekers. In total, just over 1,500 people are protected.

October last yearBy comparison, the city served 850 individuals in municipal shelters and hotels, of which 343 were one adult and 507 families.

New policy introduced

In response to the growing number of people setting up campgrounds, Portland recently adopted a new policy for addressing sites of city property.

Many elements of the policy have been what the staff has been doing for some time, but the policy helps explain them clearly and ensure uniform practice, West said. She also hopes that this policy will better address the needs of the homeless and help connect them with services.

“It’s clear to the general public, community partners, councils, and staff because we write down what we’ve done and have a fixed way of how we do it. It’s obvious to everyone, “she said.

policyPresented as a contact item to the city council on Monday, which means no council action is required, state and local laws prohibit wandering and camping in public facilities, but there are city emergency shelters. If the staff states that they do not require the removal of the campsite, the capacity will be reached unless the campsite is determined to be an obstacle or danger.

Brandi R., at a camp staying in Portland on Thursday. Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

West said Wednesday that the city’s Oxford Street shelter, which provides shelter for individuals, is currently undercapacity. “We haven’t reached that yet, it’s my understanding,” West said.

However, the policy is that the city’s social welfare manager will notify the police station, park recreation bureau, and mayor’s office when the capacity is reached. If a campsite is identified for removal, the policy states that most campsites will be notified at least 24 hours prior to removal.

The policy also encourages staff to work closely with community partners to provide and enforce resources and services. It also includes the process of checking the inventory of personal belongings taken out of the campsite and keeping them safe for owners to collect.

Amistad, a social welfare agency that provides peer support and harm reduction to people suffering from homelessness, mental illness and substance use, was one of several community groups working with the city to formulate policies. The agency also plays an important role in providing storage space for the belongings of those who are cleared from the campsite.

Tracking relationship

Brian Townsend, Executive Director of Amistad, said city officials involved in the removal of the campsite would inform people verbally or in writing about where they were (103 India St.) and how long they had. He said he would. Collect your belongings. The agency will receive and store everything collected in the two vacant rooms.

“Of course, we’ll take this opportunity to check in with people and check their real needs, safety and housing, and everything else,” Townsend said. “Some people will be familiar with us, but many are not, so it seems like a good opportunity to get to know people.”

Homeless camp near Deering Oaks Park on Thursday. Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

He said he was pleased that the city had adopted the new policy.

“I think what we had in the past was the lack of clarity and kind of chaotic intervention with no policy to back it up,” Townsend said. “We thought it was harmful to the people we support. They decided whether their camp was legal or illegal, who would intervene, which. Looks like or didn’t know anything else.

“We need to walk our lives and do it. If there are practices that don’t work, we need to fix them, but at least establishing that policy and its communication is a big improvement, so we’re very excited. It. “

Descoteau hadn’t heard about the city’s new policy, but when a reporter told it on Thursday, she said she liked the idea that she could get her belongings back if the campsite was cleared. rice field.

“It would be perfect, it’s a matter of understanding how to say,’Hey, we took yours, and it’s here,'” she said.

“We need to go here”

Not everyone is so optimistic. At a bunch of tents on the edge of Deering Oaks near Forest Avenue, homeless Neil said he didn’t think his plans to return his belongings would work.

A group of homeless individuals at a camp near Deering Oaks Park on Thursday. Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

Neil, who doesn’t want to name his mother because he doesn’t want to know he’s lost his home, said how many clothes, winter boots, dentition, etc. he had when he was staying on state land at a former campsite. He said he had lost his belongings. Cleared by the Maine Department of Transportation a few weeks ago.

He also said he was arrested for drinking alcohol in public and “it took forever” to retrieve the backpack he had when it happened. “And it was kept in the police station,” Neil said. “No, I don’t buy it.”

Neil and his friends in the tent said Wednesday they were asked to move the campsite from an area near the elevated Interstate 295, which took them to the edge of the Deering Oaks.

Paul Merrill, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Transportation, said that the Maine Department of Transportation usually responds to requests or complaints from municipalities, police, or businesses, from state passage rights to campgrounds for safety reasons. Said to remove items containing.

He said the department cleared three places on Wednesday where people were camping near the intersection of Forest Avenue and Interstate 295, but did not have details about the incident described by Neil. rice field. In general, according to Merrill, the department is trying to give people time to collect their belongings when asked to clean up the area.

Brandy R, a camp staying in Portland on Thursday, said he hasn’t been able to find an affordable place to live since he became homeless four months ago. Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

Brandy, who didn’t want to reveal her name because she didn’t want to criticize her ex-husband because she was homeless, was one of the groups who moved to the edge of Deering Oaks. She said she became homeless about four months ago because she couldn’t properly maintain the trailer where Wyndham’s landlord lived, and as a result she couldn’t use the Section 8 voucher. ..

Brandy has since been unable to find an affordable place to live, and she and her boyfriend have been evacuated from the city as she and her boyfriend were kicked out after the two were involved in a dispute. Unable to stay there, they said they wanted to be with them.

“What do they expect from us?” She said. “We have nowhere to go.”

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