MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig took to Facebook Live on Wednesday, joining Manchester Fire Department Chief Daniel Goonan and Manchester Health Department Chief Anna Thomas in a Q&A about the city’s current homelessness situation.
Over the 45-minute presentation, the three officials explained that the homeless camping site underneath the Amoskeag Bridge began organically as those staying at the New Horizons/Families in Transition shelter began to feel unsafe due to COVID-19. The city followed CDC guidelines, which were to keep people in one place. With eight weeks of state funding, the city was able to provide services directly to approximately 100 people living in 40 different campsites around the city.
In the interim, they have set up two additional shelters to supplement New Horizons while keeping within social distancing guidelines. The end goal is to begin moving homeless individuals back to one of the three locations, through individual outreach and assistance from other agencies, including the city’s mental health services.
Citing daily conversations with Manchester Police Department Chief Carlo Capano, Goonan said that crime in the vicinity of the encampment has not risen during recent weeks and the trio also noted that the encampment will be slowly phased out now that the city has built surge shelters and established other procedures to ensure proper social distancing for homeless residents seeking to stay at the city’s shelters. The federal funding will run out in about five more weeks.
During the discussion, the panel reiterated a frequent point regarding homelessness in the city: Manchester cannot solve the problem without support from other cities in the state and the state as a whole.
“The one thing this pandemic has unearthed is that we do not have a statewide plan on homelessness,” said Thomas.
Goonan added that efforts to track which homeless individuals are actually Manchester residents is difficult due to the fact that many homeless individuals consider themselves “from” Manchester after being in the city for several months, despite coming from elsewhere.
Craig and Goonan also advised residents not to give food or money directly to homeless individuals and instead give to local non-profit organizations designed to help the homeless.
Craig noted that panhandling downtown dried up during the height of the pandemic, proving that they gravitate toward where they think they can obtain money. She also noted that not all panhandlers as homeless and vice versa.
“It amazes me that people are still giving money to panhandlers,” said Goonan. “Frankly, you’re just feeding their drug habits. I know these people, they have a lot of issues.”
Thomas also said anyone looking to help the city’s homeless population can register at Volunteer NH, provide professional expertise and wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 from impacting the city’s homeless population.