A shot of City Hall in early March 2023. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
A shot of City Hall in early March 2023. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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A man was found dead in a tent Saturday night at the park-and-ride by the intersection of Marginal Way and Franklin Street.

The news marked the second reported death of a person experiencing homelessness in Portland over the last week, after another man was found at the same encampment the morning of June 12. Portland police are investigating both as possible overdoses. 

City spokesperson Jessica Grondin called the two overdose deaths “extremely unfortunate” and cited the work of the city’s newly formed Encampment Crisis Response Team (ECRT)

Composed of city and social service organization staff, the group has mobilized to work with people experiencing homelessness who have set up encampments in the city, Grondin told the Phoenix. 

The ECRT was recently formed to focus on relocating the encampment on the Fore River Parkway, which is estimated to be almost 50 tents. That encampment, near a park-and-ride at the intersection of Franklin and Marginal Way, is one of the new spots where people have camped since the city swept out an encampment of around 80 tents behind Trader Joe’s and on the Bayside Trail.

Advocates and organizations working in support of the unhoused population in Portland, like Preble Street, have spoken out against clearing Portland’s encampments. 

“Until we can provide a shelter bed or a home for everyone who needs it, we must stop clearing encampments where people are just trying to survive, and we must provide the supports necessary to promote the safety and dignity of people living there,” Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, told the Phoenix.

Earlier this year, the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council released a study that links clearing encampments to spikes in mortality, overdoses and hospitalizations.

City policy states that homeless individuals cannot be forced to move off of public space if the city’s shelters are full. The city’s Homeless Services Center is reportedly full, but officials made the decision in May to remove the camp along Bayside Trail, citing health and safety concerns.

Grondin said community partners are providing harm reduction outreach to multiple encampments in the city and the city will continue to provide trash removal at the Marginal Way park-and-ride encampment to help keep it clean.

Preble Street keeps track of yearly deaths of people who have experienced homelessness in Portland. In 2021 and 2022, that number was 51, which is lower than 2020’s tally of 64, but still up from pre-pandemic numbers (43 in 2019 for example).

The average life expectancy for homeless individuals is about 28 years shorter than those who are housed. The average age of the 43 individuals who died in Portland in 2019 was 55, according to Preble Street data.

“As a community, we need to prioritize peoples’ lives, or nothing will change. Cities will continue to struggle with encampments, and the people we care about will suffer,” Swann said.

Over 150 people attended a listening session on homelessness from the city of Portland last week on June 13, during which city officials said they would be seeking state and federal aid to try and address these issues.

Last week, Gov. Janet Mills expanded statewide treatment for substance use disorder, announcing that Maine treatment providers will receive an additional $6 million in funding for 140 new treatment beds for those suffering from the opioid epidemic. 


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