MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Wednesday night, community members gathered at the Currier Museum of Art for a neighborhood meeting discussing the topic of homelessness in the northeastern part of the city.
The need for a meeting arose after Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart received numerous calls and e-mails on the issue and other tangential concerns stemming from unfamiliar individuals roaming the area such as burglaries and vandalism.
The meeting centered on a panel of authority figures from various city departments addressing the issue of homelessness in Manchester and responding to questions from the community members.
Repeatedly, members of the panel asked community members to use the city’s See Click Fix app to let city employees from the Police, Fire, Public Works and other departments know about non-emergency issues. Additionally, they noted that calling non-emergency phone numbers available on the city’s website can often provide a quicker response than 911 during non-emergency situations and that many residents were unaware that police are unable to directly respond to anonymous requests.
Members of the audience voiced concerns about unruly activity overnight along Prospect Street and Myrtle Street as well as break-ins and thefts near Wagner Park and drug-related activity along Oak Hill Avenue and Derryfield Park among other concerns.
Manchester Police Department Sergeant Michael Donahue told the audience that with notice through the See Click Fix app or through phone calls, police details can be adjusted to address ongoing concerns. He also asked residents to provide as much detail as possible, as many incidents involve repeat offenders known to Manchester Police and additional information can help with apprehending suspects and recovering property.
Manchester Director of Homeless Initiatives Schonna Green said that the city has made extensive progress regarding the issue of homelessness since she was brought on board in 2021, noting increased collaboration between non-profit agencies through the HOPE Initiative as well as warming shelters opened during the winter that helped avoid freezing deaths among the city’s homeless population.
She told the audience that she was pleased that the city no longer has to sweep homeless encampments such as the Bucket less frequently since she arrived and the city only now disperses camps that include large groups.
“Everything we’re doing, we’re piloting ideas and we’re taking it one step at a time,” said Green. “We’re looking at the gaps we still have to figure out and as we do that, we need to address each encampment in the most humanitarian way that we can to deal with each person’s safety and make sure that they receive the proper services.”
Green said that now the primary task is helping to convince members of the city’s homeless population to take advantage of city services as it is illegal to force those individuals to accept help.
Several members of the audience expressed frustration with homeless individuals stealing items from their property and then sleeping in nearby parks. Others in the audience, such as Elizabeth Ropp, felt that there was a disconnect between the city’s efforts regarding homelessness and the needs of homeless individuals.
Ropp said she had heard from a friend who recently left a toxic situation with a roommate that had a negative reaction to the homeless shelter run by Families in Transition/New Horizons (FIT/NH).
“It’s like a prison yard,” she said of what she had heard of the facility. “I like that there’s a space not in the woods where people can go, but in the summer, it’s just a space without green in the hot sun.”
Ropp also added that she faced barriers when trying to donate acupuncture services to FIT/NH. Green praised Ropp for her attempts to help and said that one of the key tasks for the HOPE Initiative is to encourage and retain volunteers seeking to address the issue of homelessness in the city.
Panel members added that city officials try their best to keep track of incidents in neighborhoods, limited resources make it difficult, such as Manchester Department of Public Works Parks Division Chief Mark Gomez’s statement that his department currently covers 11,000 acres of parks across the city with only what he refers to as a skeleton crew.
“We’re just not aware of many of these encampments,” said Gomez.
Alderman Stewart reminded the audience that despite the city’s current resources allocated to the issue of homelessness, Manchester plays a pivotal role in the state regarding the topic and that everyone at the meeting should ask candidates running for state and federal office this fall what their positions are on how to address the issue if elected.
Ward 2 resident Maggie Wells attended the meeting and said that during the winter someone she believes was a homeless individual broke into her building’s basement and began living there, also stealing her winter boots at one point.
Wells was pleased to hear about some of the resources available to local residents, and hoped that a lack of resources from city officials in the past came from a lack of information or incorrect communication on her part.
She hopes that efforts can continue to bridge the gap between city government and the city’s homeless population in addition to city government efforts to help reduce negative interactions with the city’s homeless population like what she experienced in the winter.
“I think that the first thing is to do enough outreach and find the people who are seeking help or have barriers to accessing help and those who don’t want help,” she said. “We also need to know what resources we aren’t offering the city’s homeless population and we’re not going to know that until we do far more outreach.”