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Council Gets Update on Encampment, Services

homeles man confronting the city council

Brian Arborio expresses frustration with the council over the city’s handling of the homelessness issue.

Photo: City of Sanford

By Renée Morin

Despite the looming June 15 closure of the Heritage Crossing homeless encampment, the population of that area has continued to increase, Sanford City Manager Steve Buck told the City Council at its June 4 meeting.

Buck explained in his report from the Homelessness Task Force that the closure is necessary because of “environmental, health and safety concerns,” and that the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to assess the site on June 12 in response to complaints it has received about water quality and solid waste.

The city hopes to use the land near the former mills in its Housing First initiative, which provides housing and then addresses people’s other needs. A resource hub will be established at the Heritage Crossing encampment by June 11 at the latest to offer assistance to residents being displaced by the upcoming closure, Buck said.

Councilors adopted the task force’s report, which notes that the city will continue to work with partner agencies to address encampments “humanely and effectively.” Buck said the work will continue, but that “willingness to accept services continues to be an impediment.”

Public participation

The city’s response to the homeless encampments drew a few comments later in the meeting. Brian Arborio, who said he has been homeless for the last three years, expressed frustration with the council for how it has been handling the homelessness issue. He told councilors that he was unable to find housing in Sanford, and that other individuals hadn’t been able to either. He refuted the statement that the unhoused in Sanford are declining housing assistance, and instead claimed that there was no housing assistance offered.

The council also allowed a few non-residents to speak about the issue because of their interest in and knowledge of the issue. Rebecca Jackson, co-founder of It Takes a Village 207, said she has been helping residents of the Heritage Crossing encampment and that, so far, the city has not offered anyone housing. She also accused the city of having intentionally created a crisis five months ago when it stopped collecting trash at Heritage Crossing, providing an excuse to remove the encampment.

Journey, of the Maine Homeless Veterans Alliance, warned the city that if the Heritage Crossing Encampment is closed, it will be harder to prevent deaths from overdoses among the unhoused population.

But Donna Alger of Maine Homeless Resource Guide said the Homeless Task Force was doing a “fantastic job.” She suggested that Sanford should send a representative to the policy committee she is on, since they had helped delegate the funds for homeless assistance in the state, and some of the issues Sanford had sought funding for were not brought to the committee’s attention.

City Manager’s Report

President Biden designated the winter storms that took place from April 3 to April 5 as “Major Disasters” for York and Cumberland counties, which City Manager Buck believes will make Sanford eligible for reimbursement of much of the cost of tree removal and other repairs. He called the reimbursement rate of 80% federal, 10% state and 10% local extremely good.

As of the writing of Buck’s report, the city had received 17 applications for the recently created position of assistant city manager. More are expected between now and the cutoff date of June 12. The city plans to begin the first round of interviews this month and hopes to fill the position by mid-July at the latest.

Members of the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council, along with Buck, attended a conference in Portland held by the Brownfields Program. The purpose of this conference was to receive instruction on how to administer the two EPA grants the city received for the cleanup of the International Woolen Mill Boiler House.

Communications/Presentations

Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson gave a presentation on the June 11 school budget referendum. (See our previous story more information) https://sanfordspringvalenews.com/primary-election-features-school-budget-referendum/

Firefighter concern

During the public participation session of the meeting, resident D. R. Connolly asked the council why the Fire Department’s Truck 37 has been out of service for an extended period. She also questioned the methods used to remove PFAS from firefighters’ turnout gear. She has requested a public forum for residents to ask questions of the council.

Public Hearings

A hearing was held on the approval of a liquor license for Guerrero Maya, a new Mexican restaurant that will be located on School Street. An employee said the restaurant, at the site of the former Back Street Sanford, will tentatively open next week.

New Business

The council was presented with, and approved, a new slogan to be used to promote the November referendum on the building of two new fire stations: A Safer Tomorrow Starts Today.

The council approved an amendment to Chapter 280 of the Sanford City Ordinances regarding “Standards for Conditional Use Approval for the addition of Subsection F. Excavation Contracting Business.”

A presentation was given regarding funds spent on the operation of Anderson Learning Center.

Fire Chief Scott Susi presented a draft of a proposed city ordinance to require a permit for open fires larger than 3-by-3 feet, to comply with state law. Councilor Jonathan Martell gave several critiques of the proposed ordinance, including the lack of a definition of “wood waste,” and only the landowner being able to obtain a permit without exception for family members or friends. Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy agreed with Martell on some of his points, but disagreed on the second one, since many permits require the consent of the landowner. The ordinance will go back to the subcommittee to try to address these issues.

Future Agenda Items

According to Buck, a year-end financial estimate of the Public Works budget and anticipated unexpended funds will be presented at the June 18 city council meeting. A request will also be made then to move funds to the Capital Program for road construction projects.

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