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'A bastion of lawlessness': Portland city official says coronavirus COVID-19 has made Bayside out of control

City Councilor Kim Cook wants state resources to help reclaim order during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic

PORTLAND, Maine — The Bayside neighborhood in Portland has had an image problem for years, long before anyone knew the words COVID-19 or coronavirus.  

That's where the Preble Street Resource Center and the Oxford Street Shelter are located. 

Bayside is home to large groups of transients and homeless people who gather in the streets or on the sidewalks--many abusing drugs and alcohol, others battling mental health issues. It's a problem, one this pandemic is making worse.

"It's as bad as it ever has been and worse" said District 5 City Councilor Kim Cook.

Cook says the city has made attempts to bring civility and order back to Bayside but this public health crisis has made the situation out of control. 

"It has really devolved into an area of lawlessness at this point."

Taxpayers in Bayside are letting city officials know what's happening right outside their homes. They're even sending pictures to document the chaos.

"We are getting emails from neighbors in that area and pictures of people shooting each other up right on the street, drinking and throwing beer cans in people's driveways threatening those who live there who come out and ask them to move on."

Credit: Sarah Michniewicz
Credit: Sarah Michniewicz

The problem in Bayside has gotten worse because places, like the Preble Street Resource Center and the Portland Public Library are closed, leaving the homeless fewer places to go. 

RELATED: Maine’s homeless population faces unique challenge amid coronavirus pandemic

To try and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the jails, law enforcement is prioritizing arrests.

In a statement, Portland Police Chief Frank Clark, echoed the concerns of neighbors and city officials. 

He said, "although we may not be 'business as usual,' we're absolutely open for business and my cops are out there doing their jobs."   

Chief Clark says his officers will likely issue more summonses than make arrests to keep jails from being overcrowded, again.

FULL PORTLAND POLICE CHIEF FRANK CLARK'S RESPONSE 

Councilor Cook doesn't think that will be enough.

'If we can't bring that back to order I really think we need to call in the county and the sheriffs and the state and whatever resources they have to bear to reclaim order in Bayside".

At Wednesdays emergency workshop to discuss the city's shelters,  City Manager John Jennings agreed Bayside is a blight on the city. 

"We have allowed this type of behavior to go for far too long" Jennings said.

City officials admit solving the problem won't be easy.

"It's making sure we do it fairly, we do it effectively, we have to reclaim that part of Bayside mostly for residents who are under the gun everyday" said Jennings.

Pandemic or no pandemic city leaders in Portland admit Bayside is broken. And they'll continue to work with law enforcement to find the best ways to fix it.

Credit: Sarah Michniewicz

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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