The Maine Department of Transportation confirmed Wednesday night that it plans to remove a homeless encampment from state-owned land on the edge of Deering Oaks park near the Forest Avenue off ramp from Interstate 295 northbound in Portland.

The sweep by Exit 6, which several outreach agencies only found out about through clients, will begin around 8 a.m. Thursday.

Paul Merrill, a Department of Transportation spokesman, said in a text message that the department, in partnership with the Department of Public Safety, would remove the encampments. He declined to provide more details, including when the removal would begin.

“The department is doing this in order to keep the I-295 right-of-way safe and clear and to protect the safety of unhoused individuals as well as the traveling public,” Merrill said.

It was not clear how many homeless people would be affected, but Dani Laliberte, a social worker and leader of the Opportunity Alliance’s PATH teams, estimates that at least 40s will be forced out of their campsites if the state moves forward with its plan.

The encampment is located under a grove of tall trees a few feet off Forest Avenue, directly across the street from the northbound entrance to I-295. It nudges up against the Deering Oaks baseball diamond and is visible to motorists who use Exit 6A to leave the northbound interstate.


Outreach workers said the encampment has grown over the summer. On Wednesday evening, there were at least 30 tents on the site.

“There are a significant number of people living there,” Laliberte said. She said the state did not notify her agency. “With this sweep, it was very surprising. It came out of nowhere.”

Opportunity Alliance clients told outreach workers about the sweep. Laliberte said the agency confirmed it with city officials.

“This (removal) isn’t in the park, but rather on state land next to the I-295 off-ramps, so we (the city) are not involved,” Jessica Grondin, spokesperson for the city of Portland, said Wednesday. Grondin did not know when the removal would begin.

But Laliberte and Donna Yellen, spokesperson for Preble Street, said the removal likely would begin around 8 a.m. Thursday.



“It’s just an awful situation,” said Yellen, a social worker, who serves as vice president of Strategic Initiatives for Preble Street. Yellen said the people living in the encampment have been asking outreach workers, “Where are we supposed to go?”

Like Opportunity Alliance, Preble Street learned about the sweep from clients and eventually confirmed it with the city. Many of the clients Preble Street outreach workers spoke with had no idea that they would be forced from their campsites on Thursday, Yellen said.

“The pain and the suffering that happens when people are forced to sleep outside is awful,” Yellen said. And when homeless people are forced out of an encampment, it only adds to their stress. “Sweeping an encampment is traumatizing and it is harmful.”

Preble Street already has asked the city to postpone a planned sweep of an encampment based at the Fore River Trail. That removal is scheduled to take place on Wednesday. Yellen said more time is needed to find housing.

Grondin said the city wants to help people living in tents find housing.

“As with any unhoused individuals in the city, we encourage them to go to our offices at 39 Forest Ave. and meet with our prevention and diversion staff so they can discuss available options,” Grondin said.


The city’s Social Services Division can offer several options. If a person has a friend or family member to stay with temporarily, the city will pay for any associated transportation costs. Homeless people who contact the city will be notified directly when a shelter bed becomes available.

A homeless encampment at the Department of Transportation Park & Ride lot on Marginal Way in Portland on June 6. The state divided the lot to create a space for homeless people to erect tents. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

According to the city’s Unhoused Community Dashboard, 104 tents were on state-owned land and 138 tents on city-owned land at the end of July. August numbers have not yet been posted.

This month, the department of transportation divided a park-and-ride lot on Marginal Way near where homeless residents had set up an encampment along I-295.

The department said 84 spaces on the northern side of the lot would be closed to park-and-ride users and made available for use by homeless people. It reserved 94 spaces in the southern section of the lot closest to Franklin Street for commuters.

The move took place Aug. 3 and was described by the state as a “temporary measure aimed at mitigating the safety risks associated with the encampments of unhoused individuals in Portland.”

After Wednesday, Portland’s Encampment Crisis Response Team plans to focus its efforts on the encampment located at the park-and-ride lot on Marginal Way. The crisis team said in a memo posted on the city’s website that its decision was based on a number of factors, including the size of that encampment, the number of calls for service and community impact.

The crisis team said it plans to provide the City Council with an update at its Wednesday meeting on the encampment at the Fore River Parkway Trail.

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