The ACLU of Maine shared with state and local leaders the constitutional concerns with forcibly displacing unhoused residents and destroying property when there is nowhere left to go.
PORTLAND – The ACLU of Maine is demanding the City of Portland and the Maine Department of Transportation cancel November 1 plans to “sweep” three encampments in Portland. These sweeps will forcibly displace unhoused residents and destroy belongings they need to survive.
Last week, the ACLU of Maine wrote to Portland City Manager Danielle West and Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner Bruce A. Van Note outlining a variety of constitutional concerns with the planned sweeps. According to the letter, both entities “risk incurring substantial legal liability for violating the constitutional rights of unhoused residents” by violating the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and several sections of the Maine State Constitution. The ACLU of Maine had not received a response from West or Van Note by the time this release was sent.
The letter notes the City of Portland “has used [its] anti-camping policy and ordinances to repeatedly conduct encampment sweeps and forcibly displace unhoused people from public places,” adding that these “government actions have resulted in the seizure and destruction of unhoused residents’ property and the punishment of unhoused residents for sleeping and living outside, even when there are no adequate shelter alternatives available.”
The three planned sweeps are uniquely dangerous because Portland’s unhoused residents have nowhere left to go. The number of unsheltered residents has long exceeded the number of available shelter beds. The City of Portland has added to the crisis by making camping in other areas impossible by designating “emphasis areas,” which indefinitely prohibit camping in those areas. As the letter explains, the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals found in Martin v. City of Boise that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”
“If the sweeps happen as planned, people will lose their only shelter and life-saving items, such as tents, sleeping bags, medicine, and legal and medical records. This forcible displacement will risk lives by directly jeopardizing the health and safety of the Portland residents targeted by this policy – and will likely violate their constitutional rights,” said ACLU of Maine Legal Fellow Heather Zimmerman. “Instead of carrying out this dangerous plan, our state and local leaders should dig into the underlying causes of unsheltered homelessness to remove barriers to shelter for those who want it, as well as address the root causes of homelessness: a lack of access to affordable housing, jobs, health care, and education.”
Read the letter in the PDF below or by clicking here.
This press release was updated shortly after posting. At the time of publication, the ACLU of Maine had not heard from City Manager West or Commissioner Van Note regarding the October 26 letter. City Manager West confirmed receipt of the letter 19 minutes after sending this press release.