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Disease, Rats, Fire, and Crime Infiltrate Harborview Park

At Monday’s meeting, Portland City Councilors will vote to enact a policy to allow camping on most city parks and sidewalks. The news of this proposal resulted from a Freedom of Access request by Enough is Enough just days before the recent election.

“The Council has continued to ignore experts within city government. There is plenty of evidence that camping creates a dangerous environment for those living in tents and everyone living and working adjacent to large encampments. It’s time to have a real discussion on criminal activity, including many unhoused victims, and what actions will be taken right now. Concurrently, the city needs to begin planning for long-term solutions for helping those in need secure safe, clean shelter and the necessary services,” said Enough is Enough spokesperson Matt Marks.

As winter approaches the sites have largely combined to Harborview Park under the Casco Bay Bridge. That includes a dangerous new two-story wood structure built into the hillside. Portland’s Fire Chief shared news of growing fire concerns as residents try to stay warm. Shortly after Labor Day breweries and restaurants near the former Marginal Way site reported an increase in propane tank thefts as they prepared for utilizing their outdoor space for customers.

Some key points for citizens to consider on the latest proposal:

  • Portland Fire Department has received nearly 1,000 calls for service in 2023 to encampments. This week the Fire Chief voiced concerns about fire risks in a meeting with the Health and Human Services Committee. The Chief cited two recent fires within hours of one another. The first one on the East End burned three tents because of a propane tank. Shortly after extinguishing that blaze, they were called to Harborview Park for fire at the encampment.
  • The Police Department received 689 complaints related to encampments from January 1, 2023, to September 26, 2023. That included notable calls at Marginal Way of two stabbings, weapons possession, and strangulation involving a domestic assault.
  • During 2023 Harborview Park had 117 calls and that will only rise as consolidation of tents to the site occurs.
  • 60% of Portland’s stabbings took place at encampments.
  • 72% of total overdoses involved an unhoused person and 16% of fatal overdoses were at an encampment. On average Portland Police respond to 1.4 overdoses daily.

The City issued a memo on November 15th on the projected fiscal impact of the encampment legislation policy which will cost $1,226,518 in city-related services including:

  • $5,000 per week for two providers in the Fire Department’s Mobile Medical Services. The total estimated cost, including equipment, is estimated at $153,333 for five months.
  • Public Works will be forced to realign services as winter approaches and required to utilize contractors for storm response costing $518,867. City workers will continue addressing trash removal and cleanup at sites.
  • Vendors have refused to provide portable restrooms at sites because of the dangerous conditions so the City Parks and Recreation Department will assume those duties along with additional equipment required for a total of $271,188.
  • The city would consider adding new positions for health and human services needs and hazardous waste disposal, for example at Fore River Parkway more than 22,000 used needles were collected. The estimated total of $141,448 for the five months was projected for health and human services.
  • The Police Department could require additional details, and certainly existing officers would be re-focused on encampment areas. The cost for the five months would be $141,682.

The lack of clean drinking water, human waste, garbage, and unsanitary conditions places the unhoused and area residents at greater risk of disease. This week the city announced cases of Hepatitis A, as cited in the Portland Press Herald, within the encampments. Portland currently has 18 cases, officially becoming an outbreak recognized by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Changing the city policy to allow camping isn’t the humane solution. Some Councilors believe the policy will create smaller sites, which defies logic and if it happened would only strain city resources. It’s difficult to believe that when April arrives the Council will have a better solution and this policy will simply get extended throughout summer,” said Marks.

Residents are encouraged to attend the City Council Meeting on Monday, November 20th at 5:00 PM to share their opinion on the proposed camping policy.