ACLU gives city 24-hours to call off January 17 eviction at encampment, calls process ‘rushed’ and inadequate

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A homeless encampment outside the Families in Transition emergency shelter. Because the tents are set up on the sidewalk, which is public property, and because there are no emergency beds available, the tents can stay. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – The city on Thursday was put on notice by the ACLU that its “vacate order” for the homeless encampment issued Monday was a “rushed” decision that raises legal concerns with the civil liberties organization, perpetuates the practice of “chasing” the homeless from location to location, and should not be carried out on the Jan. 17 deadline.

“Given the seriousness of these legal issues, we respectfully ask that any eviction be delayed until they can be fully considered and until more permanent solutions are established. Given the imminence of the eviction at  midnight when Tuesday, January 17, 2023, begins, we ask for a commitment to postpone this eviction by Friday,  January 13 at 10 a.m. An immediate response is necessary given the eviction deadline set by the City and the fact that the courts are not open on the Monday, January 16, 2023, Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Thank you for your consideration.” [See the full ACLU letter below.]

City Solicitor Emily Rice on Thursday acknowledged that the letter, directed to Adrienne Beloin, Director of Homeless Initiatives, had been received, but declined to comment on it. “We are analyzing the letter and have no comment at this time,” said Rice late Thursday afternoon.

Prior to the delivery of the letter, Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, said he was aware that the ACLU had come to Manchester three days earlier to tour the encampment and Cashin Senior Center, which was established by the city on Jan. 6 as an emergency overnight warming station. It includes several cots, bathrooms and snacks. The city also provides rides to and from the West Side center.

“We haven’t heard anything yet but we’re prepared,” Long said Thursday morning when asked if there had been any contact from the ACLU.

“We’re doing more than the state did when they cleared the statehouse lawn of 100 people with no place to go, and I didn’t see the ACLU go after the governor for that,” Long said. He was referring to the eviction by the state of a large encampment on state-owned property outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse in November of 2020. In that instance, about 35 people from the group were taken off the property by outreach workers and delivered to the privately-operated Granite House. That was paid for by the state with temporary funding  through an 11th-hour contract extension with Granite House CEO Eric Spofford.

Of the dozens whisked away in vans to respite beds at Granite House in Derry, all but three returned immediately to city streets. The rest of the group scattered to various encampments around the city. The emergency funding, at an estimated cost of about $250 per bed per day, expired on Dec. 31 2020. 

The letter is signed by ACLU NH Legal Director Gilles Bissonnette and undersigned by several other local and state members of organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee, Granite State Organizing Project, NH Harm Reduction Coalition and NH Legal Assistance, local homeless rights activist Brandon LeMay of Rights and Democracy, and Dam Wright, who has been an outspoken critic of lack of service at city aldermanic meetings. The letter outlines several issues the signators have with the city’s order to vacate. From the letter:

“We have reviewed the eviction proposal and “warming station” made available by the City, including touring both the encampment and Center on January 10, 2023 and interviewing those directly impacted. For the reasons explained below, we ask that City officials postpone this eviction until a more permanent solution is established and to allow time for the City to consider the legal issues presented here. As you know, the community to be evicted is among the most marginalized in New Hampshire, with many suffering from mental illness and substance use disorder.

“In sum, we do not feel that there is a need for the City to follow a rushed eviction process and arbitrary time frame, especially when the City has no immediate answer to the obvious question that will stem from this eviction— namely, where will these people go? The recent agreement to use the Tirrell House as a homeless shelter will only house women, and there has been no date formally established for its opening. Given the absence of such a plan to immediately house and relocate these individuals in a sustainable and humane way, we hope that the City will postpone this eviction—an eviction that will only perpetuate a costly cycle of “chasing” the houseless from place to  place, and will only further ostracize, stigmatize, and endanger the safety of this community. Given the imminence of the eviction at midnight when Tuesday, January 17, 2023, begins, we ask for a commitment to postpone this eviction  by Friday, January 13 at 10 a.m., which would allow us to seek judicial relief if appropriate.”

Several bullet points made in the letter include:

  • The absence of permanent housing options.
  • Legal concerns, including being “inhumane, especially given the admitted lack of sustainable and permanent options for this community.”
  • The ACLU cites the Cashin Center’s lack of appropriate bedding, shower facilities (soap and water), proper meals, first aid and limited hours of operation.
  • In the context of the city’s “no camping” ordinance, the ACLU states the eviction is “overbroad and exceeds the scope of the ordinance.” Adding: “Camping” is only banned “between sunset and sunrise,” and thus camping is explicitly allowed between sunrise and sunset. For example, on January 17, 2023, camping would still be permitted under the ordinance from 7:13 a.m. (sunrise) to approximately 4:39 p.m. (sunset). However, the City’s January 8, 2023 email,  in overbroad fashion, appears to seek to prevent camping in this area at all times of day. But the ordinance does not impose a prohibition on camping for a 24-hour period.” 
  • The order to vacate is likened by the ACLU to “criminalizing the homeless” and writes: “Independent of any statutory authority cited, we believe that this proposed eviction violates the constitutional rule set forth in Martin v. City of Boise, 920 F.3d 584 (9th Cir. 2019). There, the Ninth Circuit held  that two city ordinances—a disorderly conduct ordinance and a camping ordinance, which criminalized sleeping  outside on public property, whether bare or with a blanket or other basic bedding—violated the Eighth Amendment  insofar as it imposed criminal sanctions against homeless individuals for sleeping outdoors on public property, when  no alternative shelter was available.”
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From left, Adrienne Beloin, Director of Homeless Services, Andrew Warner, Director of Overdose Prevention, and Jodie Nazaka, Director of Economic Development, listening to business owners during the Jan. 9 session held at Rex Theatre. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings.

During a Jan. 9 meeting organized by the city’s Department of Economic Development to address growing concerns from local businesses affected by the ongoing encampment, Beloin was asked directly what would happen to those being asked to vacate the property on Jan. 17. Beloin said the city was “working on it,” meeting daily and actively pursuing a more permanent solution, including evaluating all vacant buildings in the city.

On Jan. 11 the city announced that the state granted its request to use the empty state-owned property on Brook Street, known as Tirrell House, as a temporary shelter for women.  The house was formerly operated as a sober house for men by Families in Transition. The request came after the city had become aware of the chronic lack of open shelter beds for women, and also from outreach workers, of safety concerns among women who are unsheltered.


About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!