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'Most beautiful thing I've seen': Portland officer helps man in distress at Bayside encampment

With just two days before the encampment is forcefully cleared, tensions are high. One Portland police officer saved a man in crisis.

PORTLAND, Maine — With more than 90 tents in a confined area in the Bayside Neighborhood set to be cleared by the City of Portland on Tuesday, tensions are high among the people that call the encampment home.

"The level of stress is pretty high right now," Courtney Bass, who works at Milestone, said. "They seem to be like the forgotten population because the people don't want to get to know them."

Bass said she was working with Milestone last week doing outreach when they noticed an unhoused man in mental and perhaps drug-related distress.

"It was a person ... [who] thought he had snakes on him ... really in a panic," Bass said.

Soon the police were called. The responding officer was Kyle McIlwaine, who was working an overtime shift.

Bass said McIlwaine laid on the floor with the man and held his hand until he calmed down.

"It was the most beautiful thing I've seen in quite some time. ... The officer was so genuine, it gave me goosebumps," Bass said.

For McIlwaine, these kinds of calls are common in the Bayside Neighborhood.

"There are people in crisis every day we go into. ... In the Bayside area, there are a lot of similar calls to service," McIlwaine said.

According to a report in last week's city council meeting, calls to the Bayside encampment skyrocketed in recent weeks.

But for this moment, with tensions high and with people knowing they will soon have nowhere to camp in the city, it showed humanity.

"When you're trying to reach out to someone like this, you put yourself in their reality," he said. "I just held on to his hand, let him know I was there and that it's going to be OK."

Throughout the last full week before the encampment's clearance, formerly unhoused advocate Shay Dufour said people are concerned to what comes next.

"They are visibly shaken by this. ... When I spoke to them, you could see how upset they were," Dufour said.

A handful of people were seen already moving out of the encampment on Thursday. Preble Street volunteers were telling unhoused people the Tuesday clearance is coming.

"We want to make sure when this happens, we want to make sure people do it safely," Dufour said.

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