Portland Mayor Holds Outdoor Meeting With City's Homeless

The meeting comes amid a growing encampment protest on the steps of Portland City Hall as Mainers feel frustrated with lack of shelters and necessities

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The mayor of Portland, Maine, held an outdoor meeting Wednesday to listen to the city's homeless amid concerns officials are not doing enough to care for their basic needs.

For a week now, dozens of the city's homeless population have been joining a growing encampment protest on the steps of Portland City Hall.

Tents and collapsible canopies now stretch the entire length of the block the building occupies on Congress Street and have made the steps invisible from the street.

"I feel like people are seeing what's going on because they can't avoid it," said Courtney Priest, one of the homeless people in the encampment.

Priest explained the group's feeling is that it is "safer here at City Hall" than in most area shelters.

The protesters are arguing that the city is not doing enough to care for their basic needs like food, water and a place to bathe and sleep. They also say that shelters are not places they feel secure and many are full.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder has countered that by saying city staff told her they believe there is room in the shelters. After a city council meeting on the issue, officials decided to meet with protesters to learn more on Wednesday.

Officials in Maine are trying to prevent the novel coronavirus from further spreading among the homeless population in Portland.

"Now we can open up this dialogue and conversation," said Portland Fire Chief Keith Gautreau, who attended the meeting with Snyder and two city councilors.

During the meeting, Snyder listened as protesters discussed their difficulty finding food and water and that not enough public services are dedicated to getting them affordable medical care. Protesters also argued that many who are homeless find themselves suddenly caring for people overdosing and that shelters are unsafe.

The group said they would also like a number of overdose prevention sites to be created around the city.

Snyder did say the reports about a lack of safety at the shelters were concerning to her and she wanted more information.

She also was emotional about the stories she heard from people during the meeting, which she said struck her as a parent.

"It's terrible to shut people down and not listen," she said before being overcome by emotion, leading to the end of a brief press gaggle with reporters.

Synder said she is going to review feedback and decided on a course of action after the outdoor meeting.

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