MANCHESTER, NH –Three days after opening an emergency winter shelter at the West Side senior center the city’s Director of Emergency Operations announced that the city will be evacuating the sidewalk encampment, that has mushroomed around the Families in Transition shelter, in the coming week.
Prior to this week the city solicitor’s office had advised the mayor and board of aldermen that moving people from the sidewalk, which was believed to be public property, could open the city to litigation by criminalizing the homeless without having available shelter beds to offer them. Now that the Cashin Center is operational, there are beds.
Manchester Fire Chief Ryan Cashin, who also serves as the city’s Emergency Management Director, said outreach began over the weekend to get the word out – beyond the downtown encampment – to all known unsheltered homeless individuals about the emergency overnight shelter.
In the memo, which was issued Sunday night, Cashin said that there would be on-site outreach over the coming week for anyone in need of services for substance use or mental health.
Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, whose constituency is the downtown area including where the encampment is, said Sunday night he was glad to hear about the initiative.
“That’s a positive move forward in recovering that area for those who use those business locations,” Long said.
At-Large Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur issued a statement late Sunday as well. He was critical of Mayor Joyce Craig, referencing a strong showing of business owners at the Jan. 3 Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting who aired frustration and anger about the situation. Levasseur also called for more support from communities outside the city – based on the number of people who, when interviewed by outreach teams, say they have come to Manchester from other cities and states.
The state has no comprehensive operational plan in place to address the growing number of homeless people. The 211 communications system, operated by Granite United Way, is set up to provide information to those in need about shelters and directs them to the Doorway. However, all shelters around the state are operating at capacity and have been turning people away. The State’s 2022 Action Plan does not address the critical shortage of emergency shelter beds.
Said Levasseur, “It’s unfortunate Mayor Craig only responds to taxpayers and property owners’ requests for help when problems like this get ridiculously out of hand and they are forced to physically come to City Hall to demand action. The problems surrounding vagrancy in this city have gone on long enough. We want our city back! It’s time for other communities across this state, along with the armchair critics who do not live with this problem, to start helping out in a more ‘equitable’ manner.”
Also, Levasseur on Wednesday received a requested copy from Public Works of the plot plan for the area outside the Families in Transition shelter that includes ownership of the three-feet of sidewalk to New Horizons Inc. and includes an easement for the city. Despite references to the Martin v. Boise case – 12 years of litigation against the city of Boise for alleged criminalization of the homeless – Levasseur maintained that Solicitor Emily Rice’s interpretation of that outcome did not preclude Manchester from enforcing ordinances affecting the homeless.
The city of Boise posted this statement following the court settlement which points to the law’s protection of constitutional rights for those experiencing homelessness balanced with the “availability of shelter,” rather than criminalizing them simply for the condition of homelessness:
Boise will amend two ordinances to bring them in line with the City’s current practice of protecting the constitutional rights of those who are unable to access shelter based on disability, sexual orientation, or religious practices. The Boise Police Department will adopt and implement additional guidance and training for officers to further ensure no person experiencing homelessness is issued a citation when no shelter is available to them. This agreement is a roadmap to a final dismissal of all remaining claims against the City.
Stephanie Savard, Chief External Relations officer for Families in Transition, on Sunday expressed gratitude to the city for the activation of the emergency shelter at the Cashin Center.
“Families in Transition greatly appreciates the new shelter option of the Cashin Center opened by the City of Manchester. FIT continues to be at, or near, capacity in our adult emergency shelter. We know it is extremely difficult for the city and community to consider moving any encampment, but we will follow the guidance of our City leadership in hopes this will support folks in transitioning to a safer short-term option at the Cashin Center and longer-term solutions with affordable housing,” Savard said.
“We will continue to be at the table with the city, business owners, community members, and other non-profits to collaborate and explore more permanent options for the community for emergency shelter, affordable housing, and services and programs to meet the needs all of those who are living unsheltered in our community,” Savard said.
In the past few weeks police have reported that the encampment is growing in numbers. Those tenting outside the shelter are beginning to encroach on neighboring business property and the overall presence of the encampment has created a proliferation of trash and human waste that requires weekly cleanups by the city.
In the weeks before the New Year two people were found dead inside tents – one, Amanda Hartness, 34, outside the shelter and the other, Anthony Petricca, 55, in a remote area behind Home Depot; and a baby was born to a homeless woman, Alexandra Eckersley, inside a tent in the woods on the city’s West Side.
As the city continues to move forward to long-term solutions, the city’s Director of Homeless Initiatives is working toward identifying an alternative shelter option for Manchester.
The full memo from the EOC is below:
The City of Manchester’s Emergency Operations Center has made the determination to post a notice to vacate the encampment on the corner of Manchester and Pine streets due to increased public safety and health concerns, for both residents of the encampment and the community at large.
The notice will be posted at 9 a.m. on Monday, January 9, 2023, and individuals must vacate themselves and their belongings by 12 a.m. on Tuesday, January 17.
The City of Manchester’s community response teams, as well as nonprofit partners, including 211, will be on site to continue daily outreach to connect individuals with available services, including treatment for both mental health and substance use disorders.
In addition to the warming station at 1269 Cafe, 456 Union Street, the City of Manchester opened an additional warming center with cots for individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness at the William B. Cashin Senior Activity Center, open from 7 p.m. to 6 am.. daily. The City of Manchester provides storage of belongings and transportation to and from the Cashin Center.
In addition to these two existing sheltering options, the Emergency Operations Center continues to seek suitable space for a 24/7 emergency shelter, due to the lack of capacity at state-funded shelters across New Hampshire.
An update on an additional sheltering location is expected soon.