Documents Show Pro-Encampment Councilors Working Behind-the-Scenes to Push Permanent Homeless Encampments Throughout City
PORTLAND, Maine – Draft copies of a proposed ordinance to codify permanent homeless encampments by legalizing “camping” in most of Portland’s parks were discovered late last week, as the result of a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) request filed by Enough is Enough. Despite increasing public pressure to end the lawless and dangerous tent encampments that have resulted in a spike in violent crime and open drug use, several councilors are pushing an end-around to the current ordinances – decreeing camping in Portland’s public spaces as a protected legal right. The new ordinance, which has been kept out of the public’s view until now, would result in permanent homeless encampments throughout the city.
“Portland’s tent encampments are a dangerous and inhumane way to handle our out-of-control homelessness crisis,” said Matt Marks, spokesman for Enough is Enough. “Especially as winter comes on, it’s inconceivable that some on the Council would propose making tents in our public ways the solution to this problem. The people of Portland deserve better than the lawlessness and crime that these encampments have created, and they also deserve better than the kick-the-can policy fiasco that has led to this situation. To put it simply: these councilors are taking a dangerous and unacceptable situation and making it worse.”
The draft policy would change three sections in the city ordinance to create the new policy. Chapter 18 of the city ordinance regulates camping in city parks. Here are some key takeaways from the proposed changes to this section:
· Camping will be allowed in city parks except for Clark Street Playground, Marada Adams Playground, Monument Square, Munjoy South Playground, Pleasant Street Playground, South Street Playground, and Tate-Tyng Playground;
· Unhoused people living in the city shall also be permitted to stay in a parked vehicle in any parks of the city, except for Clark Street Playground, Marada Adams Playground, Monument Square, Munjoy South Playground, Pleasant Street Playground, South Street Playground, and Tate-Tyng Playground
The proposal would modify City Ordinance Chapter 25 which contains regulations on the use of city sidewalks. Under the permit section, a new clause would allow unhoused individuals living in the City of Portland who use tents, tarps, wooden pallets, sleeping bags, blankets, boxes, carts, and other equipment to create shelter for sleeping and other life-sustaining conduct in public places. There are conditions for public passage, but generally, in areas where this has occurred, it has become impossible to utilize the sidewalk.
City Ordinance Section 17, Enforcement, would be amended to reflect the policy’s new camping policy. Some key points of the policy include:
· People who live unhoused in the City of Portland shall be allowed to camp, sleep, sit, and otherwise loiter in any public place;
· Except that camping shall remain unlawful in the following public places: all Portland public school zones, Monument Square, and City Hall plaza;
· It shall also remain unlawful for an unhoused person to camp or otherwise loiter in a public place in such a manner as to: (1) obstruct any public street or public highway by preventing the passage of vehicles or traffic;(2) entirely obstruct any public sidewalk or trail such that less than a minimum of four feet of open space on the sidewalk or trail remains for passage of pedestrians; or (3) prevent the ingress and egress needed by the public to use public buildings and/or businesses.
The City Council failed to find a long-term solution for unhoused residents in the last year despite an outpouring of communication from both housed and unhoused residents, social service agencies, and the business community who became increasingly concerned during summer.
Crime has continued to swell in and around the encampments. Portland Police data reviewed by Enough is Enough revealed a staggering 689 calls for service at city encampments. In the Marginal Way Business area, the city had a 45% increase in 2023 compared to 2022. 72% of total overdoses involved an unhoused individual and 16% of the fatal overdoses happened in encampments in 2023. 60% of stabbings in 2023 took place in encampments leading to a 77% increase in Portland stabbings compared to 2021.
Enough is Enough has not confirmed the date this proposed policy will be presented, nor do we know if the council will conduct community meetings near parks that could host camping to elicit public feedback.
“It’s clear that the council wanted to delay this until the election was over. The public should be made aware of this proposal and it’s telling the policy eliminates city hall from the public camping,” said Marks.
Copies of the proposed amendments to the city ordinance are posted online at www.enoughisenoughportland.com/camping.