Portland Council Rejects Measure to Pause Forcible Displacement, Save Lives

The ACLU of Maine condemns Portland City Council for refusing a proposal to temporarily halt forcible displacement of unhoused residents, protect their constitutional rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
November 21, 2023 2:00 pm

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PORTLAND – In a 6-3 vote after midnight today, Portland City Council rejected Order 68, a proposal that would have temporarily halted the forcible displacement of unhoused residents through the winter months. The same councilors that voted against the order voted to send it to the Health and Human Services Committee, meaning it could take months before council could reconsider it. The measure, sponsored by councilors Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodríguez, would have been a positive first step toward protecting the constitutional rights of unhoused residents.

Order 68 recognized that people cannot be punished into seeking shelter, encampment “sweeps” harm public health for all people in our community, and forcible displacement threatens the constitutional rights of unhoused people under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and several sections of the Maine Constitution. Order 68 was particularly crucial to Portland’s unsheltered residents because there is no public land left for unsheltered people to move and the number of unhoused residents exceeds the number of shelter beds.

The ACLU of Maine applauds the three councilors who voted to implement Order 68. By rejecting the order and instead sending it to the Health and Human Services Committee, the process to consider the order will likely take several months, negating any help this would have provided through the winter.

Last month, the ACLU of Maine wrote to City Manager West and Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner Van Note outlining the threats to constitutional rights posed by sweeps and the legal liabilities of continuing to enforce anti-camping policies when there is nowhere left for unhoused residents to go. Portland is at a tipping point. 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 federal courts have found, cities cannot criminalize people for sleeping outdoors on public property if they have no other option.

ACLU of Maine Legal Fellow Heather Zimmerman delivered testimony to Portland City Council, stating that Order 68 would have been a first step in “addressing our legal concerns and the city’s legal liability when it violates residents’ constitutional rights.” She also noted that sweeps disproportionately target and harm people of color, particularly Black people. Zimmerman said the city manager’s opposition to Order 68 “wholly failed to analyze the racial impact of the city’s current policies and practices that criminalize and forcibly displace unhoused people.”

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