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'This is a humanitarian crisis': Portland businesses speak on increase in encampments

Local businesses said they want state action after the clearing of the Bayside Neighborhood encampment caused unhoused people to camp in other areas in the city.

PORTLAND, Maine — Since the City of Portland forcefully removed more than a hundred people experiencing homelessness from an encampment in the Bayside Neighborhood, several encampments have grown around the peninsula.

Businesses who neighbor these encampments say problems with caring for unhoused people in Portland have only gotten worse. Meanwhile, those in the encampments say there is nowhere for them to go since shelter space in the city is full every night.

"Pretty soon the greatest city to live in New England is not going to be," Scott Rousseau, who owns Play it Again Sports on Marginal Way, said. "These are people in a crisis."

Rousseau said his employees walk by the encampment every day for work and it's a reminder of societal failures.

"There have been several ambulance calls and we have had several fights in the parking lot," Rousseau said. "On one hand, I think people are personally concerned and I think on the other hand, they are frustrated this is a humanitarian crisis and there is no plan."

The week before the Bayside encampment was forcefully dispersed, the City of Portland said it would build a task force to specifically work on offering resources to unhoused Mainers.

That task force is still in the works, according to an email sent from city spokesperson Jessica Grondin.

Grondin said more details can be expected in the next week.

Meanwhile, unhoused people who stay at the encampment off Marginal Way fear another removal, as the parking lot is controlled by the Maine Department of Transportation.

"If we keep it clean, I think it's better," Bruce Cavallaro said.

Cavallaro is unhoused and moved from the Bayside encampment to Marginal Way.

When NEWS CENTER Maine spoke to Cavallaro, he was cleaning up the encampment in an effort to prove to the public and the DOT they want their space to be clean.

"It don't look good for us, it don't look good for the city, so I want to keep it clean," Cavallaro said. "It's almost like they're embarrassed because we're homeless."

Cavallaro said he wants people to know there is nowhere to go since shelters in the city are full.

"This could be anyone out there, this could happen to any person watching or listening right now, this could happen to you," Cavallaro said.

Organizers at Preble Street, a nonprofit that works with unhoused Mainers, said it's been hard tracking down clients since the Bayside Encampment was dispersed.

"I don't know where the help comes from, but the status quo right now is unacceptable and we must find a way to stop people from sleeping outside," Henry Myer, the program director for Elena's Way shelter, said. 

Elena's Way is a low-barrier shelter in downtown Portland. It currently has 40 beds.

"We can point fingers at the city, the state, at Preble Street or whoever, but ultimately, we let all these folks down. All of us are part of that community and none of us have done enough to resolve this situation," Myer said.

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