MANCHESTER, N.H. – Last week, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig joined Manchester Fire Department Chief Ryan Cashin and members of the Manchester Fire Department Community Response Unit Team, also known as Squad One, to get a first-hand look at outreach efforts with those in need as winter approaches.
As the city moved on from its Safe Stations program following the opening of Doorways programs at local treatment centers, Squad One has evolved to become a sort of enhanced “Safe Stations on Wheels,” acting as a proactive version of the reactive service that Safe Stations provided batting opioid addiction seeking assistance at local fire stations. However, that enhancement has expanded to assist those facing opioid abuse, but those facing mental illness and the city’s homeless population as well.
In particular, Squad One has become a key tool addressing the topic of homelessness by the Manchester Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET), the city government’s program addressing issues that require coordination between multiple city government departments.
As Squad One has grown into the role of meeting individuals in need where they are, Craig and Cashin say that the unit has helped those other stakeholders in city government, private entities and local non-profit agencies to get in contact with or assist local individuals that might be hard to keep in touch with, particularly the city’s homeless population.
While Craig did not want to assume how the city’s homeless population sees the city’s response to the issue as a whole, what she saw with Squad One and through other NET homeless initiatives such as outreach through the City’s Welfare Department and Department of Public Works has viewed favorably.
“The reaction that I received today and that I receive when I am out and about is positive, especially with the fire department, they appreciate the respect they’re given (by firefighters) and that they are asked if they are in need of anything,” said Craig.
According to Cashin, the Squad has made 2,217 total responses to individuals either needing assistance with opioid abuse or assistance for homelessness issues since July 1, 2021 with 1,470 of those contacts coming in 2022 and 171 coming in relation to opioid overdoses.
Cashin says that one of the key missions of Squad One is fatality prevention as well as keeping track of the city’s homeless encampments, although he says the latter task is difficult given the transience of the city’s homeless population. However, he also praised the efforts of other city employees in trying to keep up with the shifting geography.
“What happens is someone has a camp and they move onto another camp, but the stuff doesn’t always move with them to another camp and inactive camps often don’t look much different than an active camp,” he said. “So, we’ll go out there and respond to every call that we get into the fire department. We’re also finding that the other city departments have been department, the Highway Department and Parks and Rec Department have been absolutely outstanding in spotting inactive camps and often we’re able to go down there and verify.”
Anyone seeking more information on the services provided by Squad One can call 211. Homeless veterans in particularly can receive specialized service from Harborcare by calling 603-305-1122 or at Liberty House by calling 603-669-0761.
Craig also noted that winter shelters will be opening on Dec. 1 in Concord and Nashua with a warming station also becoming available at 1269 Café on Dec. 1 as well.