MANCHESTER, NH – Kimberly Drohan has spent the past decade serving the city’s most senior citizens at the William Cashin Senior Activity Center on the West Side. As Senior Center Manager, she and two other staff members manage the flow of some 150 seniors who come through daily for exercise classes, socializing and special events.
She objects to the city’s plan to open the Cashin center as an emergency overnight shelter. After listening to the Board of Aldermen discuss the plan during Tuesday’s meeting Drohan spent the night tossing and turning, then penned a letter expressing her reservations.
In the meantime, the city formally announced the launch of its Emergency Operations Center on Jan. 6 at 1 p.m. and the opening of the Cashin Center as an emergency overnight shelter until a better alternative is found. Manchester Fire Chief Ryan Cashin, who as Fire Chief also heads the EOC, said the city is treating the situation at Pine and Manchester streets –where dozens of tents have been pitched on the sidewalk – as a citywide emergency.
“It’s a vastly complex situation with multiple layers. The homeless residents on the street are the most visible but keep in mind there is a huge amount of homeless people not living on the street but in cars and couch surfing and the city is actively looking at solutions for all of this,” Cashin said.
He explained that the Cashin center will open daily starting Friday at 7 p.m. for overnight shelter and close at 7 a.m. It will be manned by a fire officer and firefighter who will be assigned nightly through the detail process.
Cashin Center Manager has objections
Drohan is praying it goes smoothly, but she is still against the use of the Cashin Center as a nightly shelter.
“My staff gets here at 8 a.m. That’s when they get here to unlock doors and prep the kitchen, Doors unlock at 8:30 – we have people here at waiting by then,” Drohan says. “’I’m hoping for a quick turn around, and that no one lingers outside and waits for our seniors to come in and start harassing them. I wouldn’t want that to happen. I wouldn’t want anyone lingering about our grounds. We take pride in this building and grounds and work hard to keep it maintained. I wouldn’t want to see the destruction of it with urine and feces and needles.”
She said that no one from City Hall directly contacted her Wednesday to inform her that the center would be used daily starting Friday night. But Police Chief Allen Aldenberg did call her, Drohan said, to assure her that a police officer will be on duty nightly.
“He told me they are actively looking into more suitable spaces,” Drohan said.
In her letter to aldermen emailed Tuesday morning on city letterhead, Drohan begged the board to reconsider. “I implore you do NOT use the William Cashin Senior Activities Center as a homeless shelter,” she wrote.
“Using the center as a Homeless shelter with cots will be even more devastating to our seniors. There was even mention of personal items being brought into the center. Members fear for their health and safety. The homeless bring in drugs and drug paraphernalia. They have no respect for law enforcement or property. They bring in bedbugs, lice and scabies. Our seniors should not be subjected to this. The homeless are also destructive, urinate and leave feces and needles everywhere. What happens when this occurs in the senior center or on the grounds?
- Is the city going to hire someone to come in and clean the bathrooms being used by the homeless before the center opens to the seniors each time it is used at night?
- Is the city going to hire someone to come in and clean and sanitize the Multi-purpose room being used by the homeless before the center opens to the seniors each time it is used at night?
Chief Cashin said he has spoken with Drahan multiple times about the Cashin center’s use as an emergency shelter in the past, and although it has been activated a few times over the past few years during extreme cold or snowstorms, there were no takers. It remains to be seen if people will use it this time.
The center bears the name of his grandfather’s brother, and he said he would personally assure Drohan that he will protect the center “like it is my own.”
He also had answers for Drohan’s questions.
“Yes, the senior center will be cleaned on a daily basis. We’re working on getting a contract with Aramark for that. And yes, people will be moved off the site each morning when the warming station is closed,” Cashin said.
Rules for those who will be staying there will be exactly the same as the rules enforced at 1269 Cafe, Cashin said. “Once you’re in you’re in; once you leave, you’re out.”
There will be transportation provided between 1269 and the Cashin center via Lyft, Cashin said. However, if someone leaves the center at night, they are on their own.
Long-term solutions and state assistance
The plan is to use the EOC as a command center for all relevant city departments to come together and work out “a strategic long-term plan,” Cashin said. “This is considered a short-term solution to get people off the streets as we look into several other long-term solutions.”
Cashin spent the better part of Wednesday looking at those other possibilities. Every single vacant building in the city is being looked at, and each one has its pluses and minuses, he said. He did not want to disclose alternative locations “just yet” but he confirmed that Hallsville School, which is still owned by the city since it was decommissioned last year, is on the list.
“Our goal is, from the mayor down to every department head, to find a compassionate solution that meets the needs of those who are living outside as well as the needs of business owners and taxpayers,” Cashin said.
They are also working out the logistics to provide porta-potties, showers and more trash receptacles to the encampment. Because there have been safety issues in the past, including drug use and assaults inside city-provided porta-potties, the city is still figuring out the way forward. During Tuesday night’s meeting just about every public speaker mentioned the amount of human waste and trash accumulating around the encampment.
During an executive session Tuesday city solicitor Emily Rice and the mayor and aldermen met to discuss the current ordinances and possible legal implications that have rendered the area around the Families in Transition shelter an encampment. During Tuesday’s meeting there was some discussion over ongoing confusion about who owns the sidewalks. On Wednesday, Alderman At-Large Joe Levasseur said he was further pursuing that angle with the public works department.
Aldermen on Tuesday night resolved to increase emergency shelter beds and also to immediately address public health and safety concerns in the area of Pine and Manchester streets, referred to as “ground zero” for the homeless population. In the memo released Wednesday by the mayor’s office, steps were outlined for short- and long-term relief for all concerned as well as requests being made to Gov. Chris Sununu for additional help from the state.
The Ink Link asked the governor’s office for a response to the city’s requests but so far has not heard back.
Cashin commended all city departments who have been working daily on various aspects of this issue, going “over and above.” He also said that there will be a call for volunteers coming soon.
“We need all the help we can get solving this problem and I think there are people who want to help. The more people we can bring in to help the better off the city will be,” Cashin said. “We have to pull together to make it happen.”
From the memo:
- The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will be activated Jan. 6 at 1 p.m. – The EOC, which serves as a consolidation point for first responders and departments during emergency situations, will include representatives from Manchester fire, police, Homelessness Initiatives, Health, Planning and Community Development, Mayor’s Office, Welfare Department, Solicitors Office and Public Works.
In addition to activating the EOC, City officials also announced several immediate actions to address the statewide increase in unsheltered homelessness.
Additional Sheltering Steps include:
- Temporarily opening the William B. Cashin Senior Activity Center in the evening from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. to add additional winter sheltering capacity beginning Friday, January 6th
- Shelter will be staffed by the Police and Fire Departments and will not impact Cashin Center programming
- Transportation will be offered to and from the facility
- Continue to pursue a more suitable space for an additional 24/7 emergency shelter, due to lack of capacity at the State-funded Families in Transition Adult Emergency Shelter, in addition to the Warming Station currently operating at 1269 Cafe
- Release Request of Proposal for long-term shelter staffing
Steps to Address Health and Safety in the Area of Pine & Manchester Streets:
- Implement a 24/7 Police presence
- This is in addition to the significant presence of the Community Policing Division, which has made 21 arrests in the area since December 1st
- Add additional trash receptacles and increasing frequency, including receptacles specifically designed for safe storage of hypodermic sharps
- Explore the feasibility of mobile, manned sanitation stations and readily accessible item storage
- Continuous monitoring of the area by first responders for public safety risks
In addition to these steps, in response to the statewide increase in homelessness, Mayor Joyce Craig, along with seven other Mayors across the State of New Hampshire, made the following requests of the State of New Hampshire:
- A statewide increase in emergency shelter beds, to be staffed by the National Guard due to nonprofit staffing shortages
- Many of the individuals currently experiencing homelessness in Manchester are directed to come here from areas across the state because shelters in every corner of New Hampshire are consistently at or near capacity
- This step was taken in 2018 in Rochester, and since that time, the number of individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the state has nearly tripled
- Allow the City of Manchester temporary use of the State-owned Tirrell House located at 15 Brook Street in Manchester
- The families in Transition Adult Emergency Shelter has been consistently at capacity for women since early December
- This property was previously used by Families in Transition as a Men’s Transitional Living Program and is currently vacant and heated
- Work with hospitals to provide medical respite care for individuals experiencing homelessness who are leaving hospitals
- 67 individuals have been released from hospitals or psychiatric facilities into Manchester’s Families in Transition emergency shelter – 12% of their clients during this period
- The State of New Hampshire is one of only twelve states in the country with zero medical respite beds
- Add additional shelter and resources for homeless youth
- Waypoint currently operates the state’s only shelter for young adults, which was full just four nights after its opening in October of 2022.