MANCHESTER, N.H. – A crowd of individuals shared their frustration on the matter of homelessness in the city with the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) on Tuesday night.
The group walked down Elm Street to City Hall from Veterans’ Park following a vigil to commemorate Homeless Memorial Day, an event held on the day of the year with the least sunlight to honor homeless individuals who have died due to cold weather.
Comments from the speakers ranged from claims that the BMA hated the poor and were a fan club for landlords to reading of statistics from the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness making the case that urgent action must be taken as the current trend indicates that the problem of housing insecurity is only going to grow in Manchester.
Kelly McAndrew, a formerly homeless person, held small candles while testifying to the BMA which she said were to celebrate the lives of homeless friends she knew that died. She asked the board not to clear out homeless camps if housing could not be provided.
“I’m so sick and tired of burying my friends. Stop. Leave them alone,” she said.
McAndrew also criticized Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who she says was not at the vigil or a vigil earlier in the day.
“We don’t exist to her. She wants to build bike paths and scooters and walk with seniors and pretend that we’re not there,” said McAndrew. “I swear that she hopes that we all die, that if we don’t see (homeless people) that they will eventually go away.”
Craig’s office stated she was unable to attend the evening vigil due to BMA committee meetings prior to the full board meeting.
Dam Wright, a former employee at Families in Transition/New Horizons (FIT), echoed claims of negligence at FIT that have been made by homeless activists over the past several months, saying he had tried to offer solutions to several problems but had been ignored. Wright also said that the city’s current warming shelter, the 1269 Café, only has chairs for people to sleep in and not beds, although often it is too full to accept new individuals. The calculus of whether to go to 1269 Café or FIT is a concern for many homeless individuals each night, since FIT does not allow anyone inside or outside after 7 p.m. and limits the amount of possessions one can take with them into the shelter.
Wright added that he would be willing to stop his complaints against FIT to try once again to work toward solving concerns of the city’s homeless population and prevent any further homeless people from dying outside in the cold.
Sara Tofanelli, a formerly homeless person who was also at the vigil, testified to the BMA on Dec. 7 regarding the issue of homelessness and did again on Tuesday. Like Wright, Tofanelli also criticized FIT for spending money on painting the exterior of their building while things like clean blankets were in short supply, calling for a “vote of no confidence” in the BMA and Manchester Director of Homeless Initiatives Schonna Green.
Tofanelli also accused Green of telling people “not to feed the homeless,” a claim Green said was a misinterpretation of her actual efforts to consolidate and organize efforts to help the homeless in Manchester in a more efficient manner.
Green said that the statements were incredulous given her background, particularly in regard to events she organized in Florida that fed thousands of homeless individuals.
Green told the BMA that there are now 17 participants in the HOPE Outreach group and a consolidated HOPE distribution center will be opening on Dec. 28.
“We are doing everything we can, it’s just not happening fast enough for the public to understand it and see it,” she said. “The proof is in the pudding and it’s coming.”
Green’s comments came several hours after the members of the public spoke during the new business section of the meeting, after At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur wanted to offer her the opportunity to respond to the comments made by Tofanelli and others.
Levasseur also said that the comments made by many of those who spoke were “beyond ridiculous. He also pressed Green on whether support for homeless individuals would be indefinite, with Green responding that the focus is on helping homeless and housing insecure individuals to the point of self-sufficiency.
Other members of the BMA also provided statements during new business on the topic.
Ward 7 Alderman Ross Terrio said that there needs to be a balance between leaving homeless individuals alone as McAndrew recommended and public safety, citing a recent RV fire earlier this week that left one person dead.
At-Large Alderman Dan O’Neil said that the focus needs to be not just on shelters, but providing more affordable workforce housing for those who may be in danger of becoming homeless due to high rent prices.
Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long challenged Levasseur’s assertions regarding the legitimacy of those who commented, but also challenged claims from those who commented saying not enough was being done by the city, noting the $69,000 in the city budget given to FIT this year.
Ward 8 Alderman Ed Sapienza said that more needs to be done about the cost of housing regionally, stating the cost of housing in Manchester is less than it is in nearby communities.
Craig added to that statement saying that there needs to be a statewide plan when it comes to affordable housing.