As the homeless population in Manchester grows, number of camps and shelter use increases

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One of the city’s most visible homeless encampments is on the corner of Merrimack and Chestnut streets, next to the Hillsborough County Superior Courthouse. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – Social services groups and city agencies are continuing their outreach to a swelling number of people experiencing homelessness in the Queen City, but as shelter use increases, so does the number of outside camps.

According to numbers compiled by outreach workers on Aug. 5, the number of known homeless camps in Manchester went from 31 to 35 from July 1 to July 22, and a census of homeless individuals counted an increase from 173 to 263 over the same period.

Of that number, people who are in touch with social services went from 134 to 184, and individuals whose locations are unknown and have had no contact with outreach workers in the past two weeks grew from 39 to 79.

Meanwhile, shelter use at Families in Transition – New Horizons shelter and the overflow shelter at the former St. Casimir School has seen some positive movement. Outreach referrals increased from 46 to 66, individuals accessing shelters went from 26 to 36, and people staying for two or more nights grew 13,  from 10 to 23. 

“The collaborative effort around the encampments has had a significant impact on people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, connecting them to the resources they need to achieve stability,” said Stephanie Savard, COO of Families in Transition – New Horizons. “The goal is to support them in gaining access to emergency shelter or any other housing opportunity available through FIT-NH or other housing providers based on their individual needs.”

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The usual line of people waiting outside New Horizons was non-existant on Aug. 21, 2020. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Savard said FIT-NH shelters more than 100 people on average per night, and serves more than 400 individuals from more than 180 families in their various statewide programs. 

“It has been quite the feat behind the scenes to maintain on-going operations throughout,” said FIT-NH spokesman Kyle Chumas.

Referrals to housing, substance use disorder treatment and other medical needs have also continued to accumulate over the past month in Manchester, according to the outreach team statistics.

Anna Thomas, the Manchester Health Director, said they are working with the state Department of Health and Human Services to come up with a statewide plan to address the growing homelessness problem. And she said most of the homeless individuals in the city are coming from elsewhere, unfairly taxing the Manchester systems, she said.

“The goal is to get folks into shelter but that has come with challenges. I am fearful for their safety as the extreme cold weather will set in so we are doing all that we can to link individuals to services,” Thomas said.

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Individuals accessing shelters went from 26 to 36, and people staying for two or more nights grew from 10 to 23. In October of 2019 shelter capacity was reduced to 138 from as many as 165 the previous winter. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Recent efforts were taken to clean up some of the camps this month, with the help of New Hampshire State Police, according to outreach team meeting minutes compiled by Megan Spencer from Network4Health.

Teams took note that there were three pregnant women, and a family with small children in the camps, and the Fire Department has noticed an uptick in requests for Naloxone spray, the anti-opioid-overdose drug. 

The department didn’t have the nasal spray form, only the injectable, but the Manchester Doorways program will be providing some for the department to give out, according to the minutes. 

FIT-NH continues to look for a new secondary shelter, which is dependent on location and funding, and the faith-based 1269 Cafe intends to continue using the St. Casimir School for a shelter after they close on their purchase of the building.

According to the meeting minutes, the FIT-NH soup kitchen set a target date of next Monday (Aug. 24) to start offering up to 50 to-go meals daily. The organization is looking for volunteer support to help package the meals and clean up afterward from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day.

Outreach efforts are being jointly coordinated by Manchester Fire Department, the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, FIT-NH, CMC Healthcare for the Homeless, Waypoint, the VA, Harbor Homes, City Welfare and other organizations.

FIT-NH President and CEO Maria Devlin said homeless service providers are working together and with state officials to assess different funding sources and make sure they have the maximum impact, but some red tape can make that difficult.

“There are some complications with leveraging some of these funds efficiently and effectively. Some of the funds have federally established timelines for use and other restrictions that may make utilization difficult for some agencies and locales,” Devlin said.


About this Author

Ryan Lessard

Ryan Lessard is a freelance reporter.