William “Popz” Scanlan wipes his eyes on April 17 in an alcove off Dufresne Plaza on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. Scanlan has problems with his feet that make moving quickly problematic. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Nearly every Friday and Saturday, a 57-year-old homeless man who is dying of liver failure huddles down for the night in the vestibule outside U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office on Lisbon Street.

For William “Popz” Scanlan, it’s a safe place to stow his packed shopping cart and try to stay warm and dry under the ragged blankets he wraps himself in.

Neither the senator’s office nor the district attorney’s Androscoggin County office upstairs in the former Depositors Trust Company building have much activity on weekends, Scanlan said, and sometimes he gets lucky and there’s a Monday holiday that lets him stretch his stay for an extra night.

Not long ago, he arrived at his favorite spot one Friday to find someone had urinated and defecated at the senator’s door.

“I spent what little I had for two gallons of bleach,” Scanlan said, and cleaned it all up.

He may be homeless, he said, but he’s tidy.


Scanlan, whose father was a police officer in Massachusetts, is the unofficial head honcho of the homeless in Lewiston and Auburn after at least seven years on the streets here.

He estimates there are 200 to 300 homeless people in the area now, with a clear uptick in recent times, but admits it’s virtually impossible to know the true number because so many remain in the shadows or the woods. A city report last summer estimated 1,000 Lewiston residents experience homelessness annually, though most don’t wind up on the streets.

The other thing Scanlan has noticed — and a handful of other homeless men readily endorsed in recent days — is that the Lewiston police are cracking down on all of them.

Speaking in mid-April, Scanlan said that in recent weeks police have “ramped up” what he called harassment of the city’s homeless: filing petty charges, ordering them to keep moving and sometimes destroying what little property those living on the streets possess.

“It’s gotten overboard,” Scanlan said, especially since nearly every officer knows who they are and understands full well they have nowhere to go.

One time recently, he said, an officer told him to get out of Lewiston and go “to Auburn or Greene or anywhere.”


“We’re being treated worse than common criminals by some of the cops,” Scanlan said. “Even though we’re homeless, we still have a right to live.”


The Lewiston Police Department said it doesn’t have any statistics that relate specifically to how it deals with homeless individuals.

Police readily admit, though, they’ve beefed-up “quality of life” enforcement efforts that include ramped-up actions against “highly visible, minor misbehaviors” that they say have the potential to mushroom into larger issues. It’s part of an effort to fend off a growing number of complaints to police about nuisances.

The department’s Neighborhood First Initiative began on March 15 to crack down on small-scale problems such as lighting up in the no-smoking zone downtown and drinking in public.

In the program’s first two weeks, city police issued a dozen summonses for smoking downtown, 11 of them written by the newly revamped Crime Suppression Team that is targeting quality-of-life concerns. They also issued 11 tickets for drinking in public, nine produced by the new suppression squad.


“We are very optimistic that this program is making a difference,” Chief David St. Pierre wrote to city officials on April 11.

Police also began enforcing a new municipal statute on April 1 that city councilors adopted in December to combat loitering and prevent homeless people from sleeping on public property or in encampments.

Scanlan said officers who spot someone sleeping outside somewhere in the city will “just wake you up and tell to move on.” They stand there, he said, and watch to make sure it happens.

“I’m not very fast,” Scanlan said, so they get a little frustrated with him occasionally.

“All I’m doing is sleeping,” he said, and not bothering anyone.

But it goes further than that for some.


Greg Whitney, chair of the Pleasant Street Drop-In Center at Auburn’s First Universalist Church, said that homeless guests at the twice-a-week center told volunteers that Lewiston police “are taking an extremely harsh stance” in terms of enforcing the new ordinance.

“We were told that the police were giving five minutes notice for a homeless person to dismantle and abandon their encampment,” he said. “Obviously it is impossible to disassemble a tent and pack up all of one’s belongings in five minutes.”

“Several guests stated that after the five minutes had passed, the police were slashing their tents and disposing of all of their belongings,” Whitney said.

“One woman even stated that the police threw away her medication and passport,” he added.

Whitney said many of the destroyed tents and sleeping bags were supplied by the Auburn drop-in center and paid for by a grant from the Sewall Foundation.

He said Lewiston police should “show a little more compassion for the unhoused.”


Lt. Derrick St. Laurent said, though, the police educate people at any encampments with signs and warnings before taking any action.

“We have found that encampments only grow,” the police department’s public information officer said, and when the law isn’t enforced “waste, trash and other public health issues arise.”

As an example, St. Laurent pointed to an enforcement action last fall where police took action against an encampment in the woods beside Sunnyside Park, where more than a dozen homeless people stayed. The department received many complaints about it from people using the park and adjacent walking trail, he said.

St. Laurent said the campers were told they had a week to move out. A week later, he said, officers removed everyone from the site. Lewiston’s public works crew soon removed more than four tons of abandoned property there, he added.


Scanlan said police have been cracking down out of the blue on everyone in the homeless community. The police are making it ever harder for people with no home to find anywhere they can stay, he said.


William “Popz” Scanlan holds the summons he received for smoking on Lisbon Street in Lewiston recently. Scanlon plans to appear in court to fight the charge. “What choice do I have? I’m not going off to jail for smoking on Lisbon Street.” Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Even in the middle of the night, in out-of-the-way places where nobody else is around, Scanlan said, officers are showing up to rouse the homeless and issue trespassing notices so they can’t return to the same place without risking arrest.

It’s gotten to the point, he said, where many homeless people are ignoring orders not to trespass because “you can’t lay in the dirt and the mud and the cement” all the time.

He said that with all the moving around by homeless individuals, many are keeping everything they have in carts or carrying cases. It may not seem like much, he said, “but that’s how we live.”

Scanlan said he respects the police and considers many of the officers he meets “good cops.” He said he always tries to cooperate with anything they tell him.

But it’s hard to understand, he said, why “they’re cutting up tents” that homeless people need. Scanlan said it’s gotten so bad that charities are wary about giving out any more tents because they’re destroyed so quickly by the police.

One recent Monday, a group of homeless people had come together for a safe needle exchange in Kennedy Park sponsored by the Church of Safe Injection. As Scanlan stood around with a few friends there, he said, “the cops pulled up.”


“All right,” one officer told the group, “time to move on,” Scanlan recalled.

It was a typical example of the growing pressure Lewiston’s homeless are feeling these days, he said.

The same day, Scanlan said he staked out a spot at the corner of Lisbon and Main streets asking drivers for money to help him get necessities. Officers parked nearby and kept an eye on him, he said.

When he lit up a cigarette, Scanlan said, they rushed to hand him a summons to go to court for violating a city law banning anyone from smoking in public in the downtown area. It was the first summons Scanlan ever received, he said.

He said he’ll show up in court, facing a potential $100 fine.

“What choice do I have?” Scanlan said. “I’m not going off to jail for smoking on Lisbon Street.”



The only Lewiston city councilor to respond to a request for comment, Scott Harriman, said he’s concerned about what’s been going on since an anti-loitering law took effect at the beginning of April. He said he’s heard “anecdotes from several different people” who have told him the police “have stepped up enforcement on homeless people recently.”

Mayor Carl Sheline said he is “not in favor of camping on public property, but this ordinance went too far. We have essentially criminalized homelessness in Lewiston.”

Harriman said the reality is that “if we don’t allow the public to be on public property then we’re shifting the problem onto private property owners, unless the unstated goal is that people will just leave town.”

Scanlan said he doesn’t expect sympathy. He said he just wants the police and the city to respect the rights he has as a citizen, like anyone else.

Scanlan readily admits that he’s homeless because of choices he made.


He said he has a penchant for crystal meth — a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that usually looks like tiny glass fragments, which are smoked in a glass pipe — that has ransacked his health.

The drugs left him without a gallbladder, he said, and a liver that’s struggling to serve its filtering function. He gets some medicine to help, Scanlan said, but doctors have told him they’re out of options.

With tears in his eyes, Scanlan said: “That’s pretty much the end of it.”

“It’s nobody’s fault but my own,” Scanlan added.

He said he came to Lewiston 11 years ago, hoping to put himself on a better path. But it proved tough.

“It’s so hard to remain sober here in the streets,” Scanlan said. There are so many drugs around all the time, he said, and when he doesn’t get crystal meth, “I get very sick.”

The other day, he said, he met two guys who came to town from Vermont because they heard Lewiston was the place to go for the homeless.

Scanlan said they got bad information.

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