Bangor’s largest homeless encampment, behind the Hope House Health and Living Center, was startlingly quiet and calm on Friday morning — the city’s deadline for between 10 to 20 people to leave the site.
City leaders and staff, a few city councilors and volunteers from several local nonprofits were present to assist people, but no one in the encampment, often called Tent City or Camp Hope, appeared to be packing their things.
Several people who were being forced out had already left by noon on Friday after connecting with friends, family or anyone else who could help them move, local volunteers reported. Many campsites and rudimentary shelters appeared abandoned or otherwise empty.
People living in the encampment said 50 to 60 people lived there prior to the selective sweep.
Despite the stillness within the encampment, many questions still remained about how the city’s decision to remove people from Tent City plays in the overall plan for reducing homelessness. Officials could not say where the people removed from the encampment would go next, nor how many people at Tent City have been successfully rehomed.
Debbie Laurie, Bangor city manager, said those who were forced out both refused help from outreach workers and participated in behavior that put the safety of others in the encampment at risk. That behavior allegedly included the manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs and physical violence, but Laurie didn’t identify a specific case of such actions prior to the evictions.
“We’re not going to tolerate individuals who are causing harm,” Laurie said.
While the city claimed those who were forced out were a danger to others in the encampment, some people who were allowed to stay worried about their neighbors who left.
“Winter is coming, and now the people that left don’t have their community to help keep them warm and safe,” said Nichol Cyr, who has lived in Tent City for a year and was allowed to stay. “They can’t go next door now and ask their friend if they can borrow some fuel because they’re cold.”
Several volunteers for local nonprofits that were at the encampment on Friday to provide necessities also feared that forcing people out of their home will only retraumatize them and make it more difficult for volunteers to get supplies to everyone who needs them.
Bangor police have responded to 28 calls from Tent City and arrested one person in the encampment since July 1, according to Sgt. Jason McAmbley, spokesperson for the Bangor Police Department.
Most of those calls were for welfare checks or suspected overdoses, and the one person who was arrested had an outstanding warrant, McAmbley said.
Cyr’s daughter, Ashley, also lived in the encampment in an RV with her partner, Russell, and their two dogs. The pair, who declined to provide their last names, didn’t get a green tape X on their camper, however, so they believed they would be forced out, but they didn’t have a plan in place for how to leave as of Thursday.
Russell said a friend may let them stay on their land for a short time, but they didn’t know how they’d haul their home there.
Throughout their two years at Tent City, the couple said they’ve never heard people acting in a way that puts others in danger. Instead, people in the encampment tend to work together and lean on one another when they need help.
“The most I’ve ever heard is shouting, but you hear that anywhere,” Russell said. “I’ve never heard of anyone shooting or stabbing someone. From what I see, there are lots of people here who are sick, waiting to get into detox, or scared to go into treatment because they’ve never done it before.”
Laurie said those who witnessed or were victims of criminal behavior in the encampment may not call police because they don’t want to be targeted later for speaking to law enforcement. Witnesses or victims may also have outstanding warrants as well, Laurie said, and fear calling the police will lead to their arrest.
The city simply said those who needed to leave the encampment could not stay there any more and did not direct them to specific locations or resources.
While Cyr, 48, has been working with a case manager, she hasn’t been able to find housing and understands why many choose not to trust outreach workers. Some don’t believe outreach workers can provide housing while others struggle to trust caseworkers and worry where their personal information will go.
A team of outreach workers has been working with people living in Tent City to find housing for them for several months. The team set its sights on housing everyone in the encampment before closing and cleaning the property, much like what happened at another sprawling homeless encampment on Valley Avenue, which closed in April.
The housing work at Tent City, however, has taken much longer than Valley Avenue because there are more people and not everyone is willing to accept help, Laurie said.
Laurie didn’t know how many people from Tent City had transitioned to permanent housing as of Friday.
Ashley and Russell, who have lived in Tent City for two years, said they tried initially to work with outreach workers, but weren’t able to regularly meet with coordinators since they often come without warning and at irregular times when the couple may not be home or asleep.
They were also skeptical of whether outreach workers could find a safe place to live for themselves and their two dogs.
“We’d love to be in a home, but this is home for now,” Ashley said. “It’s sad to see the community crumble like this.”