MANCHESTER, NH – At last week’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur questioned why convicted sexual offenders are allowed to stay at the city’s homeless shelters.
The short answer is because administrators can’t discriminate, particularly when they receive state and federal funds.
Presumably, Levasseur raised the issue because of the death of Jean Lascelle, 67, shot in the head on Feb. 13, 2021, outside the temporary winter shelter at 361 Chestnut St., the former Manchester Police Department.
Lascelle was a registered sex offender who listed the shelter as his address on the state’s Registration of Criminal Offenders list.
He was convicted in 1984 of aggravated felonious sexual assault of a child under the age of 13, more than 36 years ago.
Heather Hamel, public information officer for the Manchester Police Department, said there are about 500 sexual offenders registered in the city and they are allowed to register as homeless. Families in Transition/NH, she said, does not discriminate and allows sexual offenders to stay at the shelters.
Maria Devlin, president and CEO of Families in Transition (FIT)/NH, explained the shelter is a “low barrier shelter,” which means it is an environment that removes as many conditions to entry as possible and responds to the needs and concerns of people seeking shelter.
“The ‘why’ is two-fold,” Devlin said in an email. “For starters, we receive federal and state funding that prohibits this type of discriminatory policy. Secondly, it goes against our mission and core values. We aim to treat everyone with dignity and empower people to achieve their fullest potential no matter where they are in life.”
Charlie Sherman, who was executive director of the shelter for 6 ½ years when it was the New Horizons Shelter, said they received federal funds as well but barred sexual offenders and arsonists from staying there.
“Registered sex offenders and convicted arsonists were the only people not allowed to stay at the shelter,” Sherman said Monday. He said it didn’t make sense to him to have “someone convicted of raping five women” in the same facility as vulnerable people, including some women who were sexually abused as children or adults.
He said in 2016 the ACLU took the shelter to court over the issue. “It went before Judge Ken Brown,” he said. “The case was thrown out.”
Sherman said there are other agencies a sex offender can contact to find shelter, such as 2-1-1. He said they generally provide a motel room and help the individual find housing.
Sherman said when he headed the shelter they also received federal funds of a little over $200,000 of its $1.4 million budget. He said had they lost the court case, he was still not about to change the policy and planned to fundraise what was needed.
In the case of Lascelle, however, Sherman said he would have been inclined to work something out since the conviction was so many years ago.
Hamel said there are three levels of sexual offenders in New Hampshire:
- Tier 1, required to register with the MPD four times a year;
- Tier 2 and 3, required to register twice a year.
The registry is handled by NH State Police who, she said, would know how many homeless sexual offenders there are in the state and city. Manchester Ink Link left has requested that information but has yet to receive a reply.
According to the criminal offenders’ registry, Lascelle’s criminal history dated back to 1976 with his last conviction in 2005. He was convicted in New Hampshire of disorderly conduct in 1974; false report in 1976; possession of a controlled drug in 1981; aggravated felonious sexual assault in 1984; disorderly conduct in 1994; harassment in 1998; duty to report and unsworn falsification in 2005.
Timothy Johnson, 38, was arrested last Wednesday in Framingham, Mass., on a fugitive from justice warrant charging him with second-degree murder in Lascelle’s death. Johnson is fighting his return to New Hampshire to face the felony charge.