Portland puts plans to clear Bayside Trail encampment on hold

Apr. 27—City officials on Thursday said an encampment on the Bayside Trail can stay put for now as staff seeks more guidance from the City Council.

Hours after the city posted notices on tents telling people the site would be cleared because of health and safety concerns, advocates asked the city to wait at least 30 days and meet with them to come up with a better solution. The request and other feedback from the community factored into the city's decision to change course.

City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said an emergency Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee meeting has been scheduled for May 2 to "talk about these issues more in-depth before anything happens."

"We're not trying to rush this," she said. "It's not that we want to break up an encampment when there aren't a lot of places to go, but we also realize it's a health and safety hazard."

The camp — which currently includes around 50 tents stretching along the trail from Trader Joe's to Franklin Street — is one of the largest and most visible signs of Portland's homelessness crisis, which is ongoing despite the opening of a new city shelter that doubled the number of beds for homeless individuals.

Before news of the city's decision Thursday afternoon, several people living along the trail said they didn't know what they would do or where they would go if they had to move.

"I don't have a clue," said Bruce Cavallaro, 45, who has been living on the trail for about four months and has been homeless off and on for 10 years.

The situation has been exacerbated by a large influx of homeless asylum seekers, and the city is currently providing shelter to around 1,200 people per night, not including those who are on the streets.


City policy states that staff should take a "general non-involvement approach" to unauthorized campsites when city-run shelters are full, though the policy does state that campsites will be removed if they present hazards or are located in "emphasis areas" where camps have presented a repeated or persistent problem.

The city is currently operating three emergency shelter sites, all of which are at capacity.

One of the main reasons the city had sought to remove the camp was its size, Grondin said. She said the city normally advises people to go to the prevention and diversion program office at 39 Forest Ave. to see what resources are available. But if people still feel as though they have no alternatives, the city asks that they keep campsites small and away from public roads or paths where there are greater chances the camps will be obstructions.

On the trail Thursday, Cavallaro said he understands concerns about the trash.

"Trash cans — that would help," Cavallaro said, as he sat at a small table drinking a can of Mountain Dew surrounded by piles of blankets, clothes, food wrappers, and other miscellaneous items. "Bathrooms would be great. Every other home in the city has a bathroom. How come we don't have one?"

Rick Logan was contemplating his options as he bagged a pile of empty soda bottles Thursday outside a nearby tent.

"I have no family or friends, so I have nowhere to go," said Logan, 67, who said he is a veteran, has a caseworker, and has a monthly social security income of $2,500, but still can't find a place to live. He became homeless after a falling out with a roommate in Windham.

"It's hard to get a place around Portland for some reason," he said.

Further down the trail near Whole Foods, Jasper Arant was sorting through piles of clothes that she planned to take to a consignment shop to try and make some money. Arant, 46, said she's been living on the trail for about three months.

"Long story short: COVID, bad decisions, a horrible boyfriend. It all kind of snowballed," Arant said when asked how she became homeless. She said she used to work as a personal trainer and bartender, but both jobs took a hit during the pandemic. And she struggled with drug addiction after getting injured in a car accident.

She came from Bridgton, thinking there might be more resources to help in a larger city, but so far she hasn't had much luck. Arant said she has a caseworker but the process of finding shelter or permanent housing has been very slow.

"I don't know where to go or who to talk to," she said. "If you don't know the right people or the right way (to go about it), you don't get anything. You just sit here and flounder."


Police calls in the area have shot up drastically in the last two months, with 134 calls reported so far this month compared to 107 in March, 68 in February, and 60 in January, according to the Portland Police Department. From January to April 2022, calls for service averaged about 43 per month.

In the last month, there have been 13 overdoses, including two deaths, at the encampment, along with a stabbing and two reports of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. Police department spokesperson Brad Nadeau said the department is not aware of anything else that would be contributing to an uptick in calls in the area.

Some people who live at the encampment said they've had belongings stolen. And when a reporter visited the site Thursday, a woman without a phone flagged her down and asked to call 911 to help someone in a tent who had burned themselves with a candle.

Mayor Kate Snyder said Thursday that she supports pausing the removal and is happy to see that staff will be taking time to work with community partners and the council to address the situation.

"While the current Bayside Trail camp is causing public health and safety issues and concerns, removal of the encampment will only lead to camping in another location or locations and won't solve the problems or support the people in need," Snyder said.


At the Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee Wednesday afternoon, some worried that removing the camp will only further traumatize or harm those suffering from homelessness. Several members suggested that the city provide more resources, such as bathrooms and additional trash cans, or give people more time to work on solutions.

"I feel very strongly against clearing out the campsite," said Joe McNally, the director of homeless services for Milestone Recovery, which runs a 36-bed emergency shelter for people with substance use disorder.

He said the non-profit's shelter is "packed" and they've had to turn away 100 to 200 people per month.

"No one wants to be outside. It's not anything folks strive for, but unfortunately, there are no other options at this time," McNally said.

Mary Cook, who leads the Opportunity Alliance's PATH program to provide case management for homeless individuals, said that removing camps makes it very difficult for outreach workers to connect with people.

"People have set up their homes in these tents," Cook said. "They're creating stability and community in these encampments. When you disrupt them, they have to start over with literally nothing."

Cook said more consistent trash removal, providing trash bags and bathrooms and access to laundry services and showers could all help keep people safer while not disrupting them.

On Thursday, Cook said she was pleased to hear of the city's decision and is hoping the things she mentioned at the meeting can be considered.

"We continue to remain aware of the challenges the city has been presented with regarding homelessness," Cook said. "They've done a lot of advocacy and work to meet all the needs and we understand it's not the city's issue. But the removal of the camp certainly isn't the solution, so we're happy to see this decision postponed."