Ties that bind: Human stories from a Portland shantytown

When I was first invited to visit what I’ll be referring to as, “The Land of the Mohicans,” I was hesitant. I imagined a wooded hideout riddled with beer cans and syringes, with people desperate enough to rob me, and ill enough to harm me.

I wanted to make sure that I’d be welcomed, and that my presence wouldn’t make anyone uneasy.

DSC_0964“Just go along the gravel until you see an opening in the bushes,” I was told, “you’re gonna have to follow the path for quite a while, but if you look carefully you’ll start seeing campsites hidden in the trees.”

As I entered the path I felt a sort of heaviness in the air, like I was entering a lawless land, somebody else’s territory. I stepped deliberately down the overgrown path, with each step taking me further and further into this foreign world of anarchy.

By the time I left the woods just a few hours later, I had visited with several people and seen about a dozen campsites speckled throughout the underbrush of the forest.

With the help of an old ally who others have dubbed “the Mayor” of their makeshift village, I was able to get a proper tour of the area, and some drastically different perspective.


I was able to see the Land of the Mohicans for what it truly is- a juxtaposition of all that is wrong with society, and all that could be right.

It is both a peaceful and dangerous place. A place of pain, sadness, and personal demons; and a place of comfort, support, and recovery.

It is a place of horrible loneliness, and also of togetherness and hope.


In the short time that I spent there, I heard some incredible stories and witnessed some beautiful, inspiring things.

This is the first entry in what will be a series titled, “Ties that Bind,” which will profile several of the people who were kind enough- and brave enough- to invite me into their space, share their stories with me, and give me their blessings to share them on this blog.

The stories will be published over the course of the next several weeks, and each entry will profile different people living in the Land of the Mohicans.

The hope is to help shine a light not just on the hardships that people face when they experience homelessness, but also the things that give them joy- the things that make them human.

I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I ventured down that obscure path into one of Portland’s few remaining wooded areas, but by the time I emerged from it I had gained a completely new perspective on homelessness, community, and humanity.


As the resilient folks who invited me onto their campsites did, I’d like to invite you to join me as we venture down the path to explore the ties that bind us all.

The next entry will introduce the first person I encountered on the path, and also explain how the Land of the Mohicans got its name.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.