A cluster of tents near the Bayside trail in April.
A cluster of tents near the Bayside trail in April. Portland officials have formed a task force of staff, service providers and housing advocates to address encampments in public areas. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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Portland officials once again plan to remove the encampment on the Bayside Trail. 

The city announced updated plans at the City Council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday night, following a proposal last week to form a task force to address an encampment of tents and other belongings set up in the area by people experiencing homelessness.

While the committee didn’t take formal action on the staff recommendation, city officials signaled that they will move forward with a removal process. City policy requires them to give those living in the camp at least 24 hours notice.

City officials had indicated a desire to sweep the encampment in April, but paused to remove the camp and belongings of dozens of unhoused people camping on the trail behind Trader Joe’s, Planet Fitness and other businesses.

Mayor Kate Snyder argued that the “significant health and safety” concerns of the encampment, along with its growth, led her to support the plan to remove the encampment.

Several councilors had reservations about removing the campsite, especially without having shelter space to send those living on the trail. Councilor Victoria Pelletier, who said at the meeting that such an action could “retraumatize” that population of people.

“I can’t get [to a vote to approve] if we don’t have a plan,” Pelletier said.

A study from the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, which receives funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that encampment sweeps lead to higher rates of mortality, overdoses and hospitalizations.

Andrew Bove, a vice president of social work for Preble Street, a nonprofit organization that works with vulnerable populations in Portland, said in April that the encampment is “a visual representation of the fact that we are in the midst of a homelessness crisis” in Portland and Maine, adding that the city needed to advocate for more emergency shelter funding, site-based Housing First programs and treatment programs for people with substance use and other mental health disorders.

The city will begin notifying those on the trail this week.

With shelters at capacity, the city’s health and human services director Kristen Dow told the Council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee at last week’s meeting the city “needs to find creative ways to meet this goal” of clearing out the area.

The proposed task force, composed of city officials, service providers and housing advocates, will be an ad hoc one. Dow told city officials at a committee meeting last week that the plan is for the group to meet at least twice a week.

“The goal is to ensure clear communication and outreach to those in the encampment to ensure their needs are met,” Dow said during the May 2 meeting. “This would provide structure to those on the ground.”

The Bayside Trail encampment has become an area of concern for Portland officials, which just touted the opening of their new Homeless Services Center in the Riverton neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. More than 50 tents have populated the public space. 

That number increased to more than 80 tents since the weekend. Interim City Manager Danielle West said that there was discussion of city-sanctioned campsites, but officials backed away after determining they were unsuitable.

The city has a policy that they can’t require homeless individuals to move off public space if all the shelters are full — which is currently the case in Portland. City staff considered the situation in Bayside a public health and safety concern and announced in late April that they would begin giving notices to those camping there to move along.

Dow said this solution will take time to have results, but cautioned that Portland was starting in a “reactive” place. “There is not a community that has put together a perfect solution to solve homelessness,” she said.

The city’s Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee, a group composed of city staff and workers from social service organizations who work with vulnerable populations, requested a 30-day moratorium to prevent those camping in Bayside from being moved out, though it has not formally been enacted.

The Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee was slated to meet Tuesday night after the Phoenix’s print deadline. They were scheduled to discuss encampments and other issues affecting people experiencing homelessness in the city.

This story has been revised from an earlier version to reflect the decision from Tuesday night’s committee meeting.

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