MANCHESTER, NH — Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting focused primarily on the growing concern about homelessness, in particular, the persistent piles of belongings along Elm Street and other main arteries, often left unaccompanied by the items’ owners.
Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines raised the issue of “abandoned property,” which he said has been more widespread over the past few months. He noted that some of the piles, which go unattended for hours at a time, include lollipops, stuffed animals and toys.
“These piles are more and more on every block in and around downtown, it’s a point of frustration for a lot of people,” Baines said, adding that it’s also a health concern.
Police Chief Carlo Capano, who was already seated before the board to field concerns about prostitution in the area of Enright Park, said that he had a conversation with his downtown officers about the subject of abandoned property earlier in the day.
He told the board that because officers who patrol the downtown know the “regulars” who panhandle downtown, and their back stories, they know who owns the various piles of belongings, which technically differentiates the piles from “abandoned property.”
“If Officer Martin sees a bag she knows it belongs to a person,” Capano said. Obvious trash piles are disposed of, but Capano said his officers are “hard-pressed to do anything” with property belonging to homeless individuals.
Capano also said it was the first he’d heard about piles with candy and toys, and clarified whether Baines was insinuating that panhandlers are deliberately leaving the items to entice children to rummage through the piles.
Baines said it was a concern, not knowing what might be inside or underneath belongings, should a curious child begin to rummage through them.
Ward 6 Alderman Elizabeth Moreau compared allowing random items on the sidewalks to policies in place at the airport, where bags can’t be left unattended.
“We just closed the West Side, because of a suspicious package,” Moreau said. “Why can’t we as a city enforce that?” she said, suggesting creating storage space or lockers. “I’m all for paying for lockers to get them off the street.”
Ward 5 Alderman Tony Sapienza tried to make a motion to allow the highway department to collect abandoned property on a regular basis from the downtown.
He said even people zoned-out on spice will “wise up” if they keep losing their stuff to the transfer station.
“I’m serious. I’m 100 percent serious,” Sapienza said. Let’s do it, then. That’s a motion.”
Public Works director Kevin Shepard came forward to address the issue, and said that based on the discussion by the board, enlisting the highway department to collect the piles “may not be the best plan,” noting that his staff has been stuck by discarded hypodermic needles in the past.
But he also added that he’d like to be part of the conversation about how to move forward.
City Solicitor Emily Rice also weighed in, noting that disposal of property is complicated.
“Hopefully there will be a locker option at some point, but if police get into the habit of seizing stuff it’s difficult for police to dispose of it,” Rice said, noting that there’s a state statute that requires police to hold onto such items.
Capano said there is no capacity at the police station to store abandoned property.
Aldermen also discussed the growing evidence that there is a resurgence in “spice” — an over the counter chemical substance that was banned in the city several years ago. When smoked, spice causes a stupor-like reaction. Baines asked Capano what can be done if a person encounters someone who is high on spice.
Capano said because it’s considered “inhaling a toxic vapor,” and the effects often wear off before medical personnel can convince a person to go to the hospital. Legally, it’s very difficult to enforce or make arrests, Capano said, due to the unregulated and constantly changing nature of the substance. He said lab testing is required to verify that ingredients in spice are identified as illegal chemicals, and lab work can take up to a year to process right now.
Baines asked that there be a report sent back to the board for the next meeting on possible resolutions for the issue of abandoned property. Mayor Joyce Craig agreed, and said there was already a meeting on the books for later this week during which it could be raised, and that Intown Manchester should also be brought into the discussion.
Ward 8 Alderman John Cataldo also asked for an action plan for fast-tracking lockers.
“You said it’s something FIT would like to do, but it seems to me if it’s an issue in the forefront we should make it a priority. I’d like to see it be part of discussion,” Cataldo said.
Craig later provided updates for the board based on completion of a homelessness task force, which will make a formal presentation during the next Aldermen’s meeting on April 16.
She said there will also be a meeting for downtown business owners held jointly by the Chamber of Commerce and Intown Manchester to go over a marketing campaign in the works “o educate the public about what to do if they encounter panhandlers or homeless individuals.
In addition, Craig said an analysis will be done to evaluate downtown lighting and identify where more light is needed, to improve safety. Another safety measure will include the addition of two more police officers who will patrol from 12-6 p.m. Currently there are two officers who patrol from 6-10 p.m.
Two permanent cameras will be installed near City Hall to provide both close-up and wide-angle views of the downtown, footage which will feed directly to police dispatch.