A city employee who declined to give his name cleans Deering Oaks park near a homeless encampment a few hours before former Gov. Paul LePage arrived for a news conference on crime on Wednesday morning. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Portland city workers cleared a homeless campsite and picked up trash and syringes in Deering Oaks early Wednesday just hours before former Gov. Paul LePage made a scheduled appearance in the park to talk about crime.

LePage held a news conference in front of a pond that the city drained this month to help Portland police search for a gun used in a fatal shooting.

He used the setting to say crime and illegal drug use have increased in part because of the Mills administration’s policies and groups that provide needles and drug kits in an effort to reduce the harm of substance use. Democrats fired back that LePage put people at risk as governor when he opposed treatment and harm reduction efforts.

The removal of the campsite and the cleanup were scheduled before the city learned LePage was coming to town, Portland spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said.

“We have been doing this regularly as conditions require (trash, encampments, etc) and as resources allow,” Grondin wrote in an email. “We do various cleanups multiple times a week on a weekly basis. This was not a one-off.” She said in an interview that city crews clean up the area an average of three times a week.

Jeremy Green, 39, collapses his tent Wednesday after being asked by a park ranger to pack up and leave Deering Oaks. Green, who has been homeless in Portland for three years, said it is the first time he has been asked to leave the park after living there for a month. City employees cleaned the area before former Gov. Paul LePage arrived for a news conference on crime on Wednesday morning. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In July, interim City Manager Danielle West issued a policy directive balancing the needs of unhoused people with state and local prohibitions against camping on public land.


When shelters are full, staff are not supposed to require campsites be removed unless they are deemed obstructions or hazards. If campsites are to be removed, unhoused people should receive 24 hours’ notice and should be offered resources alongside enforcement. Personal belongings removed from sites should be inventoried and stored.

Grondin said Wednesday afternoon that the 24 hours’ notice policy doesn’t apply to the area that was cleared. “We don’t need to do 24 hours because we have it posted already that people could be moved,” she said.

City workers arrived shortly after 7 a.m., more than three hours before LePage’s news conference. They picked up loose trash and syringes, including in an area of the park where small groups of homeless people have set up campsites. They also told at least three people they had to leave camps. While the occupants of the camps moved some of their belongings, city workers picked up other contents, including a bicycle and clothing, and threw them into a front-end loader, which carried them to a dump truck.

Jeremy Green, 39, collapsed his tent after being asked by a park ranger to pack up and leave Deering Oaks. Green, who has been homeless in Portland for three years, said he has been living in the park for a month and this was the first time he was asked to leave. He didn’t know why.

Other campers in the park who were not asked to leave said city crews periodically clean up the area, although they did not know why the crews arrived when they did. The parks and recreation department also has been providing rakes and plastic trash barrels to help people who camp keep it clean.

Park Ranger Liz Collado talks to Jeremy Green, who was camping at Deering Oaks on Wednesday morning. Green said Collado asked him to pack up and leave. Collado declined to speak to a photographer other than to give her name. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Three people interviewed Wednesday said they were told to move from the park. One woman, who declined to give her name, said she was rousted by a park ranger who asked her to move her campsite.


A third person camping in the park, who also would not provide her name, said she understands frustration with unhoused people camping. But they are out of options.

“This is the closest area to our food source,” she said, gesturing toward Bayside, where assistance organizations hand out meals most days. “Why would they give us rakes and stuff if we aren’t allowed to be here? What do they want us to do? Where are we supposed to go?”

The park’s pond has been drained since Walter Omal, a 31-year-old Portland man, was shot Sept. 7 near a pair of park benches facing the pond close to the intersection of Park Avenue and State Street. He was rushed to the hospital and later died.

Amin Awes Mohamed, 38, of Boston, is charged with one count of murder in Omal’s killing and is being held without bail at the Cumberland County Jail. An affidavit that could explain the evidence in the case has been sealed.

In their search for evidence, police ordered the park’s pond drained on Sept. 8, and a half dozen investigators put on waterproof gear and waded into the mud, using their feet, rakes, shovels and metal detectors to look for a weapon.

The incident in the park was one of a series of unrelated shootings during a spike in violent crime in the city this summer.

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