Several concerned citizens spoke on behalf of the unhoused population at the Bangor City Council meeting on Oct. 23. The majority of those in attendance wore green to show solidarity with the victims of an unwarranted sweep against locals that occurred just days ago behind the Hope House on Corporate Drive.
Rather than providing the people who were stationed at “Tent City” with proper accommodations and resources, the city instead forced them to disperse from each other.
Many of those living at the encampment had been there for several weeks, months or years and considered it a safe space. There was also a lack of communication before this action, to the point where hardly anyone with the intention to help was given ample opportunity to do so.
The sweep occurred close to The Hope House, which provides various services to unhoused families and individuals.
Multiple members of UMaine Climate Action (UMCA) gathered together to express the vast distress that was experienced by a significant portion of the greater Bangor area. Tamra Benson is a community organizer and emphasized the severity of what occurred.
Each person who addressed the council was instructed to state their name, place of residence and message. There was a three-minute speaking limit, which some believe was another means of silencing public outrage. Bangor City officials took charge of the situation without considering how it would affect those who were already struggling to survive.
“I would like to remind you that our unhoused friends and siblings are also members of this community who deserve love, care, empathy and safety. They deserve so much more than survival. They deserve to thrive and experience joy, but how can they thrive when the city staff who are supposed to be serving them are dead-set on dehumanizing and criminalizing their hardships,” said Benson.
A resident and activist named Larry Dansinger posed an important question to the Council: “What is the purpose of city government?” Dansinger said that he believes city government needs to ensure that everybody in the geographic area has their basic human needs met and that they are supported in some capacity.
Officials behind the removal used the conviction that unhoused people in that area participated in illegal activities. Many of the activists in attendance expressed that this statement was an excuse to justify their absolute lack of humanity.
Former Bangor Resident Jackson Peck, employed in the Bangor-Brewer area, described the sweep as a “poorly communicated, botched eviction” by city staff, the Bangor police department and the area agency. He made the point that those recently displaced are residents of Bangor and should be treated with respect.
“These people are not being housed, they’re being shuffled to a different sidewalk. I urge the City Council to hold those who made the decision accountable. I ask that a change in policy be undertaken to ensure this never happens again … condemn them, figure out who it was, and hold that party accountable,” said Peck.
Full-Time Acadia Hospital Employee Gabrielle Wiley is a social work student who has been a daily witness to the city’s housing and homelessness crisis after having lived next to State Street Park for years. As a member of the city’s Advisory Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Wiley is outraged that those involved with her organization were not consulted before the mass evictions.
“I would say that it is actually the antithesis of a solution because by forcing them to leave, they are being removed from a centralized environment. Statistically, camp sweeps are responsible for worsened mental health outcomes because they disturb the fragile social network built and increase the sense of isolation and hopelessness that those facing homelessness endure,” Wiley said.
Jason Danning, another resident of Bangor, has experienced homelessness and long-term recovery. He believes that the Council has not been functioning as a voice for the people as they claim to be but is instead the decider of what the city’s funding goes toward. Recently, $2 million was put into a local YMCA.
“Buy a piece of land, give it to the people. If it’s a safety issue, kicking them out and bringing them into the city, how is that going to help the safety? You’re going to disperse them everywhere. And then they aren’t going to get people to see them. The outreach people that are already working with them, how are they going to find them? You’re asking for more trouble. Let them stay there in peace and I’m pretty sure under the constitution, they can. They have the freedom,” Danning said.
Councilor Joseph Leonard provided a statement directly after the public speaking portion in agreement with those who condemned the sweep.
“This was carried out with the intention of addressing our city’s complex housing and homelessness crises and it has left many of our most vulnerable citizens in an even more desperate situation. This has sparked valid concerns about the fundamental rights enshrined in the Maine Constitution… the central focus of our strategy must be creating more housing,” said Leonard.
It remains unclear how the Bangor City Council as a whole will respond to the collective infuriation within the community.