The Department of Transportation plans to sweep a homeless encampment from the state-owned park-and-ride lot on Marginal Way on Nov. 1. Proponents say moving the homeless before winter sets in is for their safety and that of local businesses, but a state council that advocates for the homeless is opposed to the sweep. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A statewide group that advocates for the homeless has come out against sweeps of encampments, including one slated for Nov. 1 by the Maine Department of Transportation at its park-and-ride lot on Marginal Way in Portland.

Shawn Yardley, chair of the Maine Statewide Homeless Council, said the council opposes the Mills administration’s decision to sweep the Marginal Way homeless encampment.

“You’re not solving the problem by bulldozing it and moving people down the road,” said Yardley, who was appointed by Gov. Janet Mills to serve on the council. The 14-member advisory committee gives recommendations to the governor, the Maine State Housing Authority, the Legislature, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Corrections.

Yardley said homeless people have complex issues – often related to mental health and substance use disorder – and sweeping them out of their tents just before winter “further victimizes” them and “sets the most vulnerable up” for even worse outcomes.

“They have to put their head down somewhere,” Yardley said. “We need to find a place to temporarily allow people to shelter.”

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation said the agency has been sensitive to the needs of the homeless, allowing them to pitch their tents for six months in the park-and-ride lot while the city tries to resolve the crisis.


“Our intent with installing signs at the lot and formalizing the date, which provides another four weeks of notice, was to, to the greatest extent possible, mitigate a ‘sweep,’ and the stress and anxiety associated with that,” Paul Merrill said. “… By re-establishing the Marginal Way lot to exclusive park-and-ride use with no overnight camping, we are hoping to mitigate safety concerns for all involved – the unhoused who face undignified and unsafe conditions that will only worsen as winter arrives, the businesses and their patrons that are located along Marginal Way, and park-and-ride lot users.” 


Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has discussed ways to alleviate the homelessness problem in Portland with city staff, local businesses, and elected officials, but the chamber supports the closing of the Marginal Way encampment.

“The Marginal Way encampment has grown to an unsustainable size that threatens both public safety and public health for the individuals experiencing homelessness and nearby residents and workers,” Hentzel said. “We will continue to support plans that get people inside before winter, but we understand the tough choice the Maine DOT and the city of Portland have made to wind down an incredibly unsafe situation on Marginal Way.”


Nevertheless, homelessness remains a persistent problem in Maine particularly in Portland, where there are currently 290 tents pitched in the city, according to the city’s Unhoused Community Dashboard.

Yardley realizes it’s a difficult problem to solve, but said that perhaps there could be a temporary shelter set up for the winter, in a vacant building. He said the council had been examining the complexity of moving the encampments and decided to issue a statement now because of the impending sweep on the first of next month.

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