City crews plan to cut down trees and thick overgrowth near a section of the Bangor waterfront that has long provided obscurity and shelter to a sprawling homeless encampment, city officials said.
The work, which begins Wednesday morning, is aimed at dismantling a longstanding camp of about 40 people that in recent weeks has erupted in a series of violent assaults, arsons and most recently a stabbing Friday night, according to city officials and police.
“It just gets to a point where it gets too dangerous, and you just have to do something,” Dana Wardwell, Bangor’s director of public works, said.
The camp is located along a trail between lower Dutton Street and the Interstate 395 bridge.
In the past, after repeated acts of violence, the city cleared out the people living in the encampment, but before long, they moved back in. Wednesday’s clearing represents the city’s first attempt to stop that from happening, at a time when city officials are brainstorming ways to create more affordable housing — but without an immediate plan to address the people who were displaced.
Rindy Fogler of Bangor Health and Community Services said city officials convened a workgroup two months ago to discuss Bangor’s affordable housing issues, and they’ll likely roll out programming in the fall. But the people affected by Wednesday’s clearing are left with the same options that have historically been available to them — options that previously haven’t stopped them from living outside.
“We struggle with that here. What really is helpful [for them]?” Fogler said. “There’s a lot of agencies and resources for these folks to avail themselves of.” Those services include federal voucher programs and — if they can reserve one — a bed at one of the city’s two homeless shelter or its youth shelter. But some people still don’t use them, or have difficulty navigating that network without the help of someone like a caseworker, she said.
“I think they’ll spring up in another place. I’m just not sure there’s a place to hold that many of them,” Boyd Kronholm, director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter on Main Street, said.
The waterfront is home to a portion of the city’s homeless population that has been the most difficult to help and house, Fogler and Kronholm said.
They are people who have been banned from city shelters, usually for violating the rules or endangering others, people whose arrest records or substance use make it difficult for them to secure housing and jobs, or people who shelter workers say prefer the independence of living outside.
Over the past month, police and outreach teams have made sweeps through the encampment, telling people they need to find another place to live by July 24 and handing out fliers. Police have conducted these rounds for years, according to Bangor police Sgt. Wade Betters, making sure to give people weeks of notice to ensure they come up with a plan to find new living arrangements.
Last Wednesday, few were left as a trio of Bangor police walked along the overgrown path that cuts through the waterfront. Officer Daniel Gastia knelt by the side of one man’s tent and asked him if he needed a place to store his belongings and if he knew where the city shelters were located. Officer Jordan Perry wrote the man’s name down, Eric Weyand, on a clipboard.
As the officers walked away, Weyand said he was not surprised to see the police, whom he greeted with an easy familiarity and thanked when they handed him a $5 gift card to a local fast food joint. He left the Hope House shelter in January and has lived outside ever since. He said he survived the winter under a bridge in Brewer and “under a million blankets.”
“I’ve never felt unsafe,” he said. He said he enjoys the family-like community he’s discovered at the waterfront encampment.
But for others, the riverbank is a personal rock bottom, and escaping it doesn’t feel easy.
Adrian McCoomb, 41, said his addiction to drugs has trapped him in a “prison but where you can walk around.” But he doesn’t walk far from his camp, where he can get a fix if he needs one to stave off his withdrawal symptoms. He said he lost his most recent apartment when he spent his money on drugs.
His plan after leaving the river isn’t to find a shelter, he said. “If I don’t go to detox, I’ll end up dead,” he said.
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