This photo from August 2, 2020, shows the camp that sprung up in the plaza outside Portland City Hall to to raise awareness about homelessness in Maine’s largest city. The protesters began to leave the plaza on August 6 after organizers announced their intent to wind down the protests. Credit: Courtesy of Maine People's Housing Coalition

As city officials and social service agencies scrambled to respond to Portland’s growing homelessness crisis Monday night, more than 100 protesters gathered in tents outside City Hall and demanded more direct resources for the city’s low-income and unsheltered residents.

Tuesday marked the seventh consecutive day that a group of struggling renters, unhoused people and their supporters convened there in “sleep out” encampments. They’re calling for “immediate and long-term solutions” to the city’s growing housing problem.

For starters, they want city leaders to “decriminalize” homelessness and extend the freeze on evictions imposed during the pandemic to help keep vulnerable people sheltered.

“People’s lives are on the line. Our voice and leadership are critical to moving forward solutions that truly address this crisis,” organizer Jess Falero said. “We know what we need, and we no longer accept others speaking on our behalf.”

Falero, who has experienced homelessness in Portland, called it “unacceptable” that Pious Ali has been the lone city councilor to visit with protesters at City Hall since they began gathering there last week.

When it comes to homelessness, organizers say they’d like to see a community service and care model established in Portland that prioritizes social work responses over the need for police. Through support of direct aid networks, volunteers are feeding between 100 to 150 unhoused Portland residents a day, providing round-the-clock medical assistance for them and distributing clothing, masks and other supplies.

They have connected people to laundry facilities and showers and hosted daily de-escalation trainings and educational sessions, including one on how to administer naloxone to someone experiencing an opioid overdose.

Portland city councilors hosted a remote workshop Monday night to discuss the issue of homelessness in the city.

“It is very hard for me to have a calm mindset at work due to stressors that may come about during the day,” said Aaron Porter during public comment at Monday’s city council.

Porter, who said he and his family were staying in the city’s Family Shelter on Chestnut Street, said he feared being arrested by police “because I’m [sleeping] outside and because of the unfortunate situation I’m in.”

Mayor Kate Snyder will host an in-person “listening session” for protesters to discuss their concerns Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. in nearby Lincoln Park.