Written by Craig Lyons
As state and city officials ready for the annual point in time count that takes stock of the number of people experiencing homelessness, representatives of Maine Housing and the city's Department of Health and Human Services noted that the numbers released for 2013 did not best reflect the number of homeless individuals.
In the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's report to Congress, the federal agency noted that Maine saw a 26 percent increase in its homeless population, based on the 2013 point in time count. State and city officials say that number included people in transitional housing, according to a press release, and the increase in the homeless population, either in shelters or living outside the social service system, was 11 percent.
"That [number] was just completely inconsistent with what we're seeing," said Doug Gardner, director of the city's Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2013, the survey counted 3,016 homeless individuals statewide; and a year earlier, the count was 2,939. In Portland, the number went from 390 in 2012 to 480 in 2013, according to the point in time count.
Gardner said since the count included the number of people placed in transitional housing, the increase in people staying in emergency shelters or unsheltered outdoors was a much smaller than what was reported to Congress.
From 2012 to 2013, Gardner said the state and city made a concerted effort to find transitional or permanent housing for people and get them out of the shelter system. He said the Maine Department of Health and Human Services Bridging Rental Assistance program and Maine Housing's Stability through Engagement program resulted in a 35 percent increase in the number of people who moved into transitional housing units.
Gardner said seeing more people move into transitional housing is a good thing, and the 2014 point in time count will likely show an increase again because the push to move people out of emergency shelters has continued to be a priority.
The 2013 point in time count, which was held on Jan. 30, counted 470 people in shelters and 10 unsheltered, according to the report. Of that group, 269 were single adult males, 85 were single adult females, one was an unaccompanied male youth, one was an unaccompanied female youth, 11 were adult males in families, 36 were adult females in families, 34 were male children and 33 were female children.
In 2012, the count identified 390 people as homeless, according to the date, and all but five of them were in emergency shelters.
Of that group, 236 were individual men, 65 were individual women, one was an unaccompanied male youth, seven were adult males in families, 27 were adult women in families, 25 were male children in families and 24 were female children in families.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 01:16
Written by Craig Lyons
A proposed ordinance that levies a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper bags on grocers, convenience stores, food service establishments and clothes cleaning services is moving forward despite some objections it became too broad.
The Green Packaging Working Group, which previously crafted a ban on expanded polystyrene foam containers for food service, voted Monday 8-5 to recommend the City Council pass an ordinance that created a waste reduction fee, which would require grocers, convenience stores, farmer's markets and temporary events and clothes cleaning services to charge 10 cents for each disposable plastic or paper bag to customers.
At its inception, the proposed ordinance only affected grocers and convenience stores but the group opted to include farmer's markets and one-day events, clothes cleaning services and restaurants and other food service establishments despite some concern that it was getting too broad.
When it came to including restaurants and food services establishments, which includes food trucks, Councilor Ed Suslovic, who chaired the working group, said he's afraid that if the ordinance becomes too broad or complex at first, it's likely not to pass. He said it's always possible to see how effective the fee is with grocers and convenience stores and fold in other business sectors at a later time.
Suslovic said he thought about reasonable alternatives when identifying the industries included, and, in the case of clothes cleaning services and food service, it's tough to find those options.
"I'm a little queasy on this one," he said, of the clothing bags, because he couldn't think of another option for those businesses to use.
Tyler Kidder, of the University of Southern Maine, said people can bring a garment bag they use as luggage or simply pay the 10 cents when picking up clothing.
Michelle Brooks, a citizen representative on the group, said it's also a cleanliness issue with clothing bags because it keeps the garments from getting dirty going from place to place.
"I think there are real purposes to the bags in process," she said.
Much like with clothing bags, the argument for disposable bags for food service establishments was made because they serve a purpose and there isn't a reasonable alternative.
Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Restaurant Association and Maine Innkeepers Association, said other cities that have enacted a fee have excluded food service. He said establishments rely on the bags to preserve food quality and safety in some instances if the food is too hot to be handled directly.
Suslovic asked if there were any food safety regulations that necessitated the bags.
Dugal said people can't go somewhere and take the food out in their own containers because an establishment can't say the vessel is clean. He said he's not sure if that means a reusable bag couldn't be used for takeout, and would have to check.
The inclusion of restaurants and other food service establishments is contingent on it being allowed by food safety regulations.
The ordinance is being weighed by the task force in an attempt to decrease the amount of waste created by disposable bags. Exemptions in the ordinance include bags for items like fruits, vegetables, meat or fish, flowers and plants, prescription medications or newspaper bags. The ordinance includes a clause that allows for bags to be given out at no fee during an emergency situation, at the discretion of the city manager or other official.
An establishment can retain up to 40 percent of the waste reduction fee. The portion of the fee that will go to the city will be used for programs to mitigate the environmental impact of disposable bags, including providing reusable bags to residents and visitors, education programs and waste reduction programs.
Despite the committee's ultimate decision to recommend the passage of the ordinance, the two members of the public who spoke at the meeting were opposed to the measure.
Resident Robert Hains said the preamble for the proposed ordinance ought to come with a strong justification for why there's a compelling public interest in enacting the fee. He said he doesn't see how a Hannaford bag is different from a Lowe's bag, how a Shaw's bag is different from an electronics store bag, or how a Reny's bag is different from a drug store bag.
"I don't see any difference," Hains said, and given that they are all basically the same bag, it could be argued that the ordinance isn't legal because it unfairly targets some groups.
"It's either everything or nothing in order to meet a purpose that's a public purpose," he said.
Chris O'Neil, of the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, said he looks at the creation of new regulations and bureaucracy in austere times cautiously, and that all of the reporting, collections and enforcement might be too much.
"We wonder if we're going to have a bag police some day," he said.
O'Neil said the City Council will have to weigh the issue and its necessity, and the argument can be made the city wants a strong economy and thus should vote against the measure, but could also say it wants a clean environment and approve it.
A more modest approach, O'Neil said, would be to improve the infrastructure to increase recycling of disposable bags, which he said might be the best solution.
Late in the group's deliberations, the idea of including all retail establishments was considered but failed by a 7-6 vote.
"I feel like we've already crossed the line into this won't get passed," Brooks said.
The next stop for the proposed ordinance is at the council's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee, which could take up the regulation as early as March.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 01:46
Written by David Carkhuff
A "Press for Prosecution" rally at the Waterville Police Department on Saturday brought out friends and family of missing Waterville toddler Ayla Reynolds, as well as protesters from the Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous movements.
And now, this Tuesday, activists plan a "A Call for Prosecution" online event to send messages to public officials involved in the investigation.
"We are coming together in a community action to get the attention of all of these Law enforcement officials and demand Justice for Ayla Anon Style," reports a post at https://www.facebook.com/events/1393646200887032/?ref=5.
"Spam targets" include Waterville Police Department, Kennebec County Sheriff's Office, Maine State Police and the Maine Attorney General's Office.
The Facebook group, "Truth and Justice for Ayla Reynolds," wrote that the online petitioning is an all-day effort.
The goal is to spur a prosecution of the missing girl's father, Justin DiPietro.
"Thank you for joining us in pressing for prosecution of Justin DiPietro and anyone else responsible for the disappearance and death of 20 month old Ayla Reynolds. Please Invite/share this event and the upcoming physical protest," the group wrote.
Earlier this month, the group clarified that "spam" doesn't mean junk messages, but rather, reported, "It's time to get their attention and get Justice for Ayla. The messages that we will be posting/e-mailing will be posted on the day of the event."
Also, the group stipulated that messages will not be sent to emergency dedicated lines but rather to business lines as a way to petition the government.
The child's mother, Trista Reynolds of Portland, has demanded answers about the missing child and released information that she said she received from police investigators. Ayla Reynolds was last seen sleeping in her bed at about 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, according to family members. Her father reported her missing Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8:51 a.m. when he said he found an empty bed.
Reynolds' disappearance has become the focus of a criminal investigation and national media attention.
Waterville Police, State Police, the Maine Warden Service and the FBI all have conducted searches and inquiries around the DiPietro home at 29 Violette Ave. in Waterville.
Jeff Hanson, "stepdad and family advocate," wrote in promoting the events, "We have been informed by the organizers of these events that this will be a collaborative effort of local community members, grassroots activists that stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, Justice Seekers, Seeking Justice for Ayla, Anonymous, and many other non-law enforcement groups/individuals that have been working to get answers in this case."
Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, has told reporters that investigators have hit a wall with members of the DiPietro family.
"The communication with Justin, his sister and his girlfriend have basically stopped," McCausland said during the prolonged investigation.
Asked if that's frustrating, he said, "It's been frustrating for police since December because we haven't been able to find Ayla, and as I've stated all along, I believe those three individuals inside that home that night know things that they haven't told us, and that is frustrating."
Anyone with information about Ayla Reynolds is urged to call state police at 624-7076.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 01:46
Written by David Carkhuff
Titles such as "Krull," "Adventure," "Star Raiders" and "Pitfall" evoke memories for some, and a mystique of ancient gaming history for others.
Mike Breton said the lure of 1980s-era Atari video games appeals to both nostalgia buffs and a younger generation intrigued by the early game system.
Breton, owner of Electric Buddhas at 49 Oak St. in Portland, said he sells vintage electronic entertainment "with good karma" — a reference to the devotion to the old music, games and comics that customers will express.
"When people find this stuff, they're really happy," he said.
Breton's Electric Buddhas has been open in Portland for less than four months, following a hiatus marked, somewhat ironically, by a foray into Internet sales and by a long stint at the Prides Corner Flea Market in Westbrook, where he stayed for about a decade.
"I'm really glad to be back in Portland in the Arts District, I started in Portland across from the State Theatre, I was there from '91 to '97," Breton said.
He shifted to online sales, "but I really itched to get back into dealing with people."
Breton began marketing at the Prides Corner Flea Market in Westbrook and stayed there for about 10 years.
Through a friend of a friend, he located space that he rents from Maine College of Art.
"I've been here since October, but I've been running this business in one place or another since 1991. I pretty much got out of college and tried my hand at being self employed," Breton said.
The vinyl records and throwback Atari games aren't easy to locate, Breton said.
"Most of this stuff you can't order from a wholesaler, you have to go out and look for it," he said.
"I have two main customer bases right now," Breton said, "there are the kids, say 16 to 25, who are young enough, they didn't grow up with their parents having albums, they grew up with their parents having CDs or MP3s. And they see these pieces of black plastic that can make really cool-sounding music, you use this weird player robot arm thing, and they're blown away. Then, I have people I'd say late 50s to early 70s, getting back into vinyl."
Customers enjoy the novelty of records that boasted artistically designed covers and sleeves.
"In this day of intangible records and movies, a record you can hold and you can look at the album cover, you have liner notes, it's tangible, it's real," Breton noted.
"The video games are similar, nothing against today's modern systems, but you often have to read a book to figure out how to play, and hours and hours to even get into it. Sometimes you don't want to play someone's life, you just want to sit down and mash some buttons," he said.
Young fans may have heard of "Ms. Pac-Man" or "Pole Position," but they never experienced these games first hand.
"This stuff is way before their time, but it's fun. These games were made to be enjoyed, made to be fun to play, and they still are. And then you get people in their 40s who played it when they were young, and they say, 'Let's play that again.'"
Breton maintains a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ElectricBuddhas) and is redoing his website. He's open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 01:47
Written by David Carkhuff
Late last Sunday, Cody Moores said he came within seconds of dying in an apartment fire off Forest Avenue only to find himself fuming in the Cumberland County Jail.
The sequence of events left Moores with little faith in the Portland Police Department. A police official said Moores failed to clear up a warrant that was hanging over his head and couldn’t expect any other outcome.
The incident began with Moores taking a “power nap” before going to work at a nearby convenience store.
Moores said he woke up last Sunday at around 9:30 p.m. to the smell of smoke.
“I was on the third floor, in the middle of renovating it,” Moores said of the late 1800s apartment building at 84 Irving St.
He was supposed to work that night, “I decided to take a little power nap before going to work. ... I was asleep for about half an hour, about 9:30 I woke up because I couldn’t breathe.”
Not trying to seize any belongings, Moores made a run for it.
“I sprinted down the stairs, I got to the second floor, I couldn’t see the floor underneath my feet. ... I got down to the first floor, it was pitch black, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t scream.”
He tried to reach the kitchen door to escape, “but that whole wall and the door were engulfed in flames,” Moores recalled.
The front door was blocked, so he was going to go back up to the second floor and try to break out a window. Instead, immersed in smoke, heat and noise of the fire, he found himself trapped in the living room and starting to suffocate.
“I was tripping over all this furniture and I just couldn’t grab it,” Moores said.
He heard people yelling to him, although the fire created its own sound.
“A house engulfed in flames is really loud, it drowns out everything around you.
It’s the most terrifying feeling I’ve ever experienced,” he said.
“I decided I’m too stubborn to let this house kill me.”
He felt along the wall and found a uniquely shaped light switch that gave him direction to the dining room, and then he reached the threshold. On plunging outside, Moores said he passed out and tumbled down a set of concrete steps.
“I look up at the house, I remember before I get up from the lawn,” and the window directly above his bedroom had 30-foot flames shooting up to the tree branches outside.
“If I had stopped to so much as grab my cigarettes off the night stand I would be dead,” he said.
That’s when the shock of barely surviving a fire changed to dismay, as his night took an unexpected turn. Police were on the scene to help with crowd control, firefighter safety and other duties, and an officer he knew offered him a warm place to sit.
“I was out there in just my (work) polo shirt, a pair of jeans and socks. That’s when I ended up asking the officer if I could sit in my cruiser, and next thing I know I’m being hauled off to jail while everything I own is burning up,” Moores said.
A warrant for failing to pay a fine for operating a vehicle after suspension had caught up with him. The officer’s supervisor made the decision that Moores should be taken into custody, he said.
“I got pulled over for a blown headlight, the person who was supposed to be driving the vehicle was a little drunk. ... I missed the court date.” The Class E misdemeanor seemed minor, Moores noted.
“After I came out of that traumatizing experience in the house, police were going around asking for all the people in the house and running them through the computer,” he said.
The officer came back and asked if he had warrants out on him, Moores recalled.
The officer was on the phone with his supervisor, Moores explained, and his supervisor said, ‘Well, we have a fixed address on him now?’ The officer was looking up at my house going up in flames.” So the answer appeared to be “no.”
The supervisor ordered Moores taken to jail.
“I have a few things on my record, they’re all Class misdemeanors, they’re victimless crimes,” Moores insisted.
Running through his mind: “I came within three seconds of losing my life in that house, I was standing on the street watching everything I worked my ass off for, burning to dust. Come arrest me tomorrow after my shift, you know where I work.”
At the jail, a TV monitor displayed the fire damage.
“I was getting my fingerprints at exactly 11 o’clock exactly when the news came on” when the fire was the lead item, Moores said.
His employer drove about an hour from her house in the middle of the night to the county jail and bailed him out, he said.
Red Cross assistance provided a hotel room and aid on a gift card. Moores said he almost missed out on this help. He went straight back to the house after being bailed out to check on everyone, and the Red Cross provided him the aid at that point, Moores said. If he had stayed in jail, he would have missed out, he said.
Moores said he understood the officer at the scene, someone he knew from work, was following orders.
“The arresting officer felt terrible, He had the decency not to cuff me in front of the whole neighborhood, he drove around the block,” Moores said.
But he shared his anger over the situation: “’As of right now, I used to have complete respect for the Portland Police Department,’” he told the officer. “You right now are the only one I like.”
Portland Police Assistant Chief Vernon Malloch said the incident of his arrest could have been avoided if he had attended to the warrant.
“He got arrested, the warrant is for operating without a license and it charges that he failed to appear in court,” Malloch explained.
“I think it’s unfortunate that over the course of the last two years that he didn’t take some action to address this charge,” Malloch said.
Malloch acknowledged the horrible circumstances and the fire as “a big loss and a big disruption in people’s lives,” but he said he could not fault the officers.
The warrant stemmed from a charge by the Kennebunkport Police Department and failure by Moores to appear in Biddeford District Court, Malloch said. The judge set $150 cash bail, Malloch said.
“The thing with warrants is it’s a court order that’s signed by the judge that says to go out and find that person,” Malloch said. “We can’t really just give him a summons. ... The failure to appear element of this takes a little bit of our discretion away. It’s not a serious charge, it is a traffic offense, but it is a misdemeanor.”
Malloch also pointed out uncertainty over where Moores would be living. An April 2012 warrant featured a Cumberland Avenue address, he said.
“The other thing to remember in this case is this is from 2012, and presumably he knew he was supposed to go to court in Biddeford in 2012 and he didn’t go,” Malloch said.
The police presence at the Sunday night fire was part of officers’ job, Malloch added.
“Typically, our responsibility at a fire scene is to essentially set up a safe zone around the fire, close streets, make sure firefighters are able to do their work unimpeded,” he said.
Police may also want to talk to witnesses to help with fire investigation and identify people who safely escaped.
“In this particular case this man was in the back seat of a police cruiser,” Malloch said.
Information about the warrant set off the chain of events, and a decision had to be made.
“He’s going to be harder to find if he’s not taken into custody then,” Malloch said.
Moores said he stayed at the Red Cross-provided hotel for three nights, and then a co-worker put him up in a spare bedroom in an apartment near his work.
He said an expected tax return refund will provide extra income to help him secure an apartment. Moores said he hoped to make a donation with money made at his job to support the Red Cross.
“All my customers at work have been great, they’ve been offering me clothes,” and one man left a $100 bill in an envelope, Moores said.
Even strangers have offered help.
“I lost faith in the police department, but some of my faith in the rest of humanity has been restored,” Moores said.
Irving St. fire deemed to have started on first floor of apartment
Investigators have determined that the three-alarm fire at 84 Irving St. last Sunday night most likely started on the first floor of the building, but they have not yet determined what ignited the blaze, the Portland Fire Department reported. The fire was reported shortly after 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Investigators continue to gather and evaluate evidence as well as witness statements related to the fire, a press release reported.
“The presence of working smoke detectors certainly helped to prevent a very tragic outcome in this incident,” said Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria. Six people escaped the fire because of functioning smoke detectors. There were no reported injuries.
— Staff Report
Last Updated on Friday, 24 January 2014 03:53