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September 26, 2023

The ACLU of Maine will testify against a proposed order that would fail to invest in adequate shelter while the city increases dangerous sweeps

PORTLAND – The ACLU of Maine will testify today before Portland City Council in opposition to a proposed order that would continue the criminalization of homelessness in the city. ACLU of Maine Legal Fellow Heather Zimmerman will share remarks during the 5PM meeting in Council Chambers on Tuesday, September 26, 2023. The ACLU will join protesters at 4PM in City Hall Plaza. 

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In the midst of an acute housing crisis, Portland police continue harassing unhoused residents, going so far as to seize and destroy their personal belongings – likely violating their constitutional rights. 

The city manager's proposal to warehouse people in need of shelter on the outskirts of the city would add bunk beds to existing shelters without increasing space or critical infrastructure, such as bathrooms and showers. It would only minimally increase funding for staffing and transportation. This would artificially inflate the number of "open" shelter beds, giving the city and police another excuse to conduct dangerous sweeps as they pretend reasonable alternatives to camping are available. 

This proposed order relies on the use of emergency powers to supersede other city rules and laws to minimally invest in a crisis that has been years in the making. It will support laws and policies that punish and criminalize unhoused residents for engaging in life-sustaining activities. 

“The order facilitates the city’s increasing sweeps, which are inherently racist, government-sanctioned violence against certain Portland residents simply because they cannot afford housing. In addition to threatening residents’ constitutional rights, seizing and destroying property risks the loss of life-saving items, such as tents, sleeping bags, medicine, and legal and medical records – not to mention personal mementos that one may consider treasure, but the government considers trash,” said Zimmerman. 

Zimmerman continued, saying, “We appreciate that the city sees the urgent need for more shelter space, but the current proposal is not the solution. First, the city must immediately stop the sweeps and criminalization of homelessness. Second, Portland City Council should send this discussion to the Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee, where compassionate and evidence-based policy solutions can be proposed. The measure is currently being pushed by the city manager, but it should reside with an elected body designed to address these issues.” 

The ACLU of Maine is encouraging community members to join other advocates and unhoused residents at 4PM at City Hall Plaza to protest the city manager’s proposal. Learn more here.

Read Heather Zimmerman's testimony in the PDF below or here.