Portland Police Department takes a cue from Ebenezer Scrooge

With the winter holiday season in full swing, the Portland Police Department took a cue from the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge last week when they had dozens of homeless encampments destroyed along Interstate 295.

(Video from wgme.com)

With the mild December weather that Maine has seen this year, many in Portland’s homeless community are choosing to sleep outside rather than cram into crowded city shelters.

Now- thanks to the PPD- at least several of those desperate enough to pitch a tent in one of the few remaining wooded areas on the downtown peninsula have been forced out of their campsites, and some even had their belongings bulldozed and dropped in a dump truck.

The process, which operated under the guise of a “roadside maintenance project,” and included clear cutting overgrown brush to make it harder for future campsites to be hidden, was carried out by the Maine Department of Transportation under order from the PPD, and cost about $40,000.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many people were living in the area, but Roger Goodoak of the Maine Homeless Veteran’s Alliance knows better than anyone.


Roger Goodoak, founder of the Maine Homeless Veteran’s Alliance.

Goodoak, who goes to homeless camps around town almost every day to drop off supplies and support to those in need, said that at least 10 to 12 people were displaced, and possibly more.

“To be honest, I am upset,” said Goodoak on Sunday. “I believe there are a lot of misleading facts.”

Based on the front line work that Goodoak does, plus the pathetic reasoning given by the PPD for ordering the demolition in the first place, I’m inclined to agree with him.

“We’re not sure they were all occupied at the time,” said Maine DOT spokesman, Ted Talbot, of the leveled campsites. “But the police gave them a 24 hour notice to vacate.”

Goodoak isn’t buying it, saying that those who weren’t at their campsites when the police showed up to give the notice to vacate had no way of knowing.

“If you were not in your camp when they showed up to give you a warning they bulldozed without even letting people get their tents and belongings,” he said.

The demolition was unarguably cruel and cold-hearted, but when you consider the excuses being given by officials, the act becomes utterly heinous.

“It’s not being done without reason,” said Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch, citing public safety concerns.

“There’s a lot of crimes that go on within these encampments which often times go unreported, from sex crimes to serious assaults,” said Talbot, echoing Malloch’s rhetoric.

Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

Malloch said that the crimes go unreported out of fear that campsites will be destroyed by responding police officers.

In other words, the police department is claiming that homeless people aren’t reporting crimes because they’re afraid their campsites will be torn down, so to solve the problem they’re just tearing all the campsites down.

Not only does this make absolutely no sense, but according to Goodoak, it isn’t even true.

“I have been visiting camps nearly every day for the last six months and have never heard of this,” said Goodoak. “I’ve seen people get upset with each other, but never seen anyone get hurt. I’ve heard of people coming in and stealing stuff from campsites, but that’s about it.”

Thing is, even if assaults are happening, how does going in and destroying the sites solve anything?

The simple answer is, it doesn’t.

All that was really accomplished is that particular stretch of I-295 looks a bit prettier when you drive down it now.

Oh yea, and at least a dozen marginalized people have been needlessly, heartlessly displaced by the very officials charged with protecting them in the middle of December.

Happy Holidays.

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.