Aldermen ban park usage for campers, needle exchanges

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The city has been objecting for two years to the needle exchange at Veterans Park.

MANCHESTER, NH – Needle exchange organizations seeking to use the Queen City’s parks will have to now find another venue.

The Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed to a suspension of their rules on Tuesday, allowing a proposed ordinance amendment to ban needle exchange programs from city parks to skip a trip to back to committee and be ordained into the city’s laws as early as tomorrow.

City officials had expressed frustration with New Hampshire Harm Reduction Coalition (NHHRC), requesting that they move their needle exchange program out of Veterans’ Park for nearly two years.

Manchester Health Department Director Anna Thomas said that needle exchange services aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but groups that engage in the services should not “lead with the needle” and instead combine the services with testing and counseling efforts.

Michael Porter (Ward 8) and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig were frustrated at the fact that in a normal year the group would collect and receive tens of thousands of needles for every referral to a substance abuse program.

Joseph Kelly Levasseur (At-Large) has been a critic of the NHHRC but expressed concern that the organization would just move somewhere else in the city and sending the proposal to the Committee on Second Reading would provide time for the city and the group to find a new and less onerous location.

Craig replied that the city has been attempting to negotiate with the group for several months and they have been aware of this proposal for several weeks so the responsibility lies with them. Bill Barry (Ward 10) also stated his view that an additional hearing on this was unnecessary.

Jim Roy (Ward 4) also expressed concern that banning needle exchanges from city parks would be like “squeezing a balloon” and just move the organization elsewhere. He also expressed concern about suspending the rules for immediate approval of this proposal as well as another proposed ordinance banning camping in city parks, geared largely toward homeless individuals who have been setting up tents inside the city’s parks without permission.

Ross Terrio (Ward 7) did not oppose the concept of the public park camping ban, but did believe that the $1,000 maximum fine was onerous. City Solicitor Emily Rice indicated that this was merely the maximum fine that the city could recommend under state law. Rice also noted that the fine issued to anyone breaking the ordinance would be determined by a judge and it could be much lower.

The request to suspend the rules and immediately ordain both proposals into the city’s ordinances passed by a 12-1 vote, with only Roy voting in opposition.