[Hpn] New advocacy group to pressure Portland on homeless;Portland, Maine;10/16/01

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Tue, 16 Oct 2001 10:26:20 -0400


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Tuesday, October 16, 2001
Portland Press Herald <http://www.portland.com>
[Portland <http://www.ci.portland.me.us>, Maine]
Local News section
New advocacy group to pressure Portland on homeless

Staff report

A new advocacy group for the poor and homeless in Portland plans to protest 
Thursday on the steps of City Hall.

Portland Organization to Win Economic Rights, or POWER, hopes to pressure 
the community and city leaders to provide access to housing, health care, 
jobs and education, according to its organizers. The protest comes weeks 
after the number of homeless exceeded the capacity of Portland's emergency 
shelters for the first time in 12 years.

"This is just October and we're already turning people away. What is going 
to happen in the dead of winter?" said Karen Evans, a longtime advocate for 
the poor in Portland and an organizer of the new group. "We are our 
brothers' keeper."

Along with adding more shelter space, organizers say it's time to declare a 
housing emergency and freeze rents while building thousands of new 

POWER is likely to get a mixed reception at City Hall.

City officials said they are already focusing aggressively on homelessness 
and other issues, although they welcome more public awareness. Case workers 
moved more than 40 people out of the Oxford Street homeless shelter into 
apartments and rooming houses in the past two weeks, and the city will have 
overflow space ready by this weekend in case the shelters overflow again, 
said Gerald R. Cayer, Portland's director of health and human services.

"It's sort of ironic that a protest will be held on the steps of City Hall 
in the one community that's really made a legitimate effort to help with 
homelessness," Cayer said. "If it's another opportunity to educate the 
community and the state about the issues of homelessness, then I welcome 

POWER's debut coincides with the emergence of the Portland Tenants Union, a 
mixed-income group that hopes to promote the rights of renters in a housing 
market that gives individuals little clout. The tenants union's first public 
event is Oct. 23: a panel discussion on rent control at 7 p.m. in King 
Middle School.

POWER, which is largely made up of low-income Portland residents, clearly 
hopes to draw attention to the needs of the poor with a more aggressive 

A group of residents created POWER in the past few months after a visit to 
Portland by members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. The anti-poverty 
group from Philadelphia has fought for affordable housing with various 
protests, including "tent city" sleep-ins at government buildings such as 
the state capital.

Similar groups of activists for the poor have formed in cities around the 
country in response to welfare reforms in the 1990s, the lack of affordable 
housing, and the growing populations of poor and homeless.

POWER's planned protest is reminiscent of Portland's own tent city in 1987, 
when homeless residents protested the lack of emergency shelters by camping 
out on the steps of City Hall and in nearby Lincoln Park. That prolonged 
protest led to the creation of the city's Oxford Street homeless shelter, 
which expanded several times over the years until finally hitting its 
capacity of 154 people several days last month.

"We're going back to where we went in 1987," said Evans, who helped organize 
that protest, too. Evans is the founder of the Wayside Soup Kitchen and a 
former shelter operator who also works to improve services for the mentally 

Another organizer of the group is David Wagner, a professor of social work 
and sociology at the University of Southern Maine and the author of 
"Checkerboard Square," a book about homelessness in Portland.

"It really has been about a decade since there was really the presence of an 
activist low-income organization," he said. "And my opinion is that's sorely 

Homelessness and poverty are still growing problems, once again testing the 
community's resolve, Evans and Wagner said.

"We have a situation that most people would agree in Portland is 
intolerable, particularly for the lower-income half of the population. We 
need some sort of radical action," Wagner said. "We don't believe the city 
or landlords or anyone has taken this very seriously."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: 


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Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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