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Portland Program Puts Panhandlers in Productive, Paying Public Projects

Peter LaRoche picks up trash around the Back Cove in Portland.
Photo by Fred Bever for Maine Public

On any given day — all year ’round but particularly in the warmer weather — panhandlers work the curbs and corners of Portland, cardboard signs broadcasting their need for a little help. After an unsuccessful attempt to crack down on panhandling a few years ago, the city is trying a more benevolent approach.

Derek Cote is a Portland native who has been on the streets for a while. Heroin and a partner’s death, he says, have contributed to his homelessness for the past five years. He brings in a few dollars each day standing on a median strip.

When things are going well, Cote says he and other panhandlers can make some decent cash at choice intersections, where commuters’ cars line up on their way to and from the highway that transects the city. And, he adds, they share the territory.

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