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MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Friday night, the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) approved a pair of items related to the recently announced emergency related to the state of homelessness in the city.
The first measure related to a use of premises agreement with the State of New Hampshire to take control of 15 Brook Street, also known as the Tirrell House.
In a unanimous voice vote, the BMA approved the wording of the agreement. (seen below)
The Governor and Executive Council now has decide on whether to accept on the wording of the agreement approved by the BMA. Since they are meeting next Wednesday, this special Friday (BMA) meeting was required to meet public notice requirements for the Executive Council meeting. Earlier this week, the state agreed in principle to provide the Tirrell House to the city.
The Tirrell House, which can house approximately 14 to 16 beds according to testimony at Friday’s meeting, will be operated by the Manchester YWCA as a women’s shelter, given the lack of available beds for women at the permanent homeless shelter run by Families in Transition. The Tirrell House had been vacant since November, and it had been used by Families in Transition for substance abuse assistance prior to that point.
The second measure, which was also approved by a voice vote, transfers almost $900,000 in Community Improvement Program (CIP) funds toward several costs related to homelessness.
Given the recent declaration stating a homelessness emergency in the city, Manchester Planning and Land Use Management Director Jeffrey Belanger opted to present the proposal directly to the full BMA rather than the regular process, which would require review from the BMA CIP Committee.
Those funds are broken down into $173,991 of U.S. Housing and Urban Development Community grants awarded to the city, $398,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds and $300,000 from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
These funds will primarily assist with the operations of facilities helping the city’s homeless population and overtime funding for city staff aiding the homeless, primarily police and firefighters. In Belanger’s funding proposal, it was noted that the Mayor’s Office and city staff intend to solicit donations to offset costs were possible.
Both proposals were preceded by an update on emergency warming shelter operations at the Cashin Senior Center by Manchester Fire Department Chief Ryan Cashin. He told the board that since the shelter opened last week, it has seen 61 total check-ins from 30 people that included 21 males and 8 females.
Cashin and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig praised a variety of people associated with the efforts related to the operation of the emergency warming center.
“I can assure you that people are working as hard as they can,” said Cashin.
Cashin also recommended the city pursue a short-term lease to use the former Manchester Transportation Center building as an additional or replacement emergency warming shelter, potentially as early as Tuesday. Currently the building lies vacant and is being marketed as a commercial property.
Alderman At-Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur voiced partial concerns regarding any short-term lease with the transportation center, with funding for that lease coming from the CIP funding approved in the second proposal. However, he was pleased with the action that is being taken in relationship to the city’s homelessness crisis.
Levasseur’s focus regarding the crisis centered around residents and business owners frustrated with the concentration of homeless people living outside the Families in Transition shelter on Merrimack Street, telling the BMA at their last meeting that many homeless people harassed local residents.
Levasseur expects more local residents to speak at the next regular scheduled BMA meeting to express their satisfaction with the emergency action that has been taken and request more action be taken to prevent further harassment.
“I tell people all the time, you don’t think you can change your government but you can by getting out and speaking to your elected representatives,” he said. “If they don’t hear from you, they don’t know what you’re thinking of what your problems are.”
The emergency arose in part due to city action related to the homeless individuals living around the shelter but without access to the shelter, which did not have enough beds for everyone seeking one.
Due to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Martin v. Boise, municipalities cannot remove individuals from sidewalks solely for the sake that they are homeless unless shelter beds are available. However, Cashin noted that many of the tents occupied by individuals around the shelters had open flames, creating a public safety concern.
That triggered the drive to seek additional warming shelter space, and eventual eviction notice to those living in the tents. Earlier on Friday, the ACLU of New Hampshire sought to stop the city’s eviction, with the city agreeing to potentially pause the eviction after learning earlier in the day that there may be a court order related to the ACLU’s request and that the Tirrell House addition to the city’s homeless support infrastructure may change the situation relating to the ACLU’s legal concerns.