Director of Homeless Services resigns, a ‘major loss’ to the city after having a ‘positive impact’

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Manchester Director of Homeless Initiatives Schonna Green. Photo/John Angelo

MANCHESTER, NH – On Wednesday morning Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long urged Schonna Green not to go.

“She told me she was going to resign and I told her not to,” says Long.  “I told her that I think she’s a breath of fresh air for the city of Manchester, and that I didn’t want her to leave.”

But by Wednesday afternoon Green had turned a hard corner on a tough decision. She tendered her resignation in a single sentence to her current supervisor, District Fire Chief Ryan Cashin:

“I am writing to inform you of my decision to resign as Director of Homeless Initiatives for the city of Manchester, NH, effective immediately.”

Mayor Craig said she learned about the resignation while attending a Ward 9 neighborhood meeting Wednesday night.

“Schonna has been instrumental in our efforts to reduce homelessness and increase affordable housing in Manchester. We’ve already seen the positive impact she’s had on our community. I’m grateful for her service to the City and wish her the best of luck in the future,” Craig said in a statement.

Long said Green’s departure is a “major loss” to the city and credited her with moving a needle that’s been stuck for years when it comes to creating some sort of system to manage the homeless population.

Hired by then Fire Chief Dan Goonan in April of 2021, Green was the city’s first-ever Director of Homeless Services. She was hired on a two-year contract earning an annual salary of $94,458.

Long says in hindsight, the city should have had more support in place. Tackling homelessness is not a one-person job.

Schonna Green, left, visited the Douglas Street encampment in June of 2021, eight weeks after her arrival as the city’s Director of Homeless Initiatives, which was eventually “swept.” To the right is District Chief Ryan Cashin. File Photo/Cameron Johnson

“She was a director of homelessness with no staff, so that was set-up to fail from the start. It would be like telling Chief Aldenberg you have no more officers and, oh, keep the city safe. Schonna had a lot of ideas that were stifled someway, somehow – and that was frustrating to her. She called me three weeks ago and said she felt like people were working against her and that they didn’t want her here. I don’t know about that because I’m not in her shoes every day,” Long said. “But homelessness is a major initiative in the city of Manchester and in my opinion, you can’t address it with a one-person department.” 

Long also noted that Green, who came to New Hampshire from Port St. Lucie, Florida, had been dealing of late with an ongoing personal issue that created a rock and hard-place situation. 

“She had to take care of a family matter in Florida, and obviously can’t be in two places at once,” Long said. “She told me she was contemplating suggesting she serve in a part-time position at half her salary and attempt to keep the momentum going she has set up for current initiatives by commuting. I would have been willing to accept that because I have the most confidence in her,” Long said.

Ultimately, that compromise was not an option for a city in need of a full-time manager of homeless services.

“We have people coming to meetings saying she’s doing nothing. They don’t know the half of it. She’s the one who brokered the old police station housing, and that company not only came into Manchester for that, but now they’re bidding on another project to turn into affordable housing. She got 63 people off the streets and into a program in Nashua. She’s a high achiever and doesn’t do anything half-ass,” Long said.

Before taking the job in Manchester Green for 21 years served as founding director of Florida’s M.I.S.S. Inc. (Mothers and Infants Striving for Success) of the Treasure Coast, which she launched with a $7,000 grant. The organization continues to provide services and housing for 140 people, including mothers who are heads of households, senior women and people with mental health and/or substance abuse problems.

Members of the HOPE (Housing Options Promote Empowerment) Outreach Committee in Manchester in January or 2022, from left, Karen Soule of the Manchester Board of School Committee; Charleen Michaud, the city’s director of welfare; Schonna Green, Manchester’s director of homeless initiatives; Manchester Alderman-at-Large June Trisciani; and Biram Saidybah, supervisor of Manchester Community Health workers. Courtesy Photo

Green dove right in, creating community alliances and impressing the board of aldermen early on with her ability to bring people to the table to work together. She attended community meetings on nights and neighborhood events on weekends. She met with CEOs and property owners as well as faith organizations to broker some common ground.

But there were some persistent hurdles, as well.

In addition to having three different supervisors over the course of her 18-month tenure in the city, Green also had been moved around for lack of permanent office space, operating at first out of the fire station, then shifted over to a small space at the city Health Department. Said Long of her nomadic situation, “that’s no way to ask someone to run a department.”

Just a little over a year ago Green presented her plan to address homelessness to the board of aldermen after taking time to assess the city’s strengths and needs. It was a plan with several phases and and included addressing the mounting issue of encampments. After a sweep of an encampment known as “The Bucket” in June of 2021 Green tried to find a way to avoid upending the precarious reality of those living “unhoused” – sweeping encampments without an alternative housing option for them made little sense.

She stated at the time what was needed was a solution that allowed all people to live without unreasonable constraints – including having to encounter hypodermic needles, trash and human excrement in their neighborhoods.

Green also had her detractors, in particular, allies of the homeless who did not agree with Green’s philosophical approach. Long said Green withstood a lot of pushback from a vocal group of people, but believed Green’s overarching plan, if executed, could have eliminated homelessness in the city and, perhaps, helped create a model to be replicated elsewhere.

“Here’s a woman who’s not a clinician who identified what was needed here – why? Because she knows the population,” Long said. “She could see people and say this is what this person needs. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the services available that were needed to address the 40 people out of 150 who are chronically homeless due to mental health and, of course, some addiction or self-medication.”

Schonna Green on July 27, 2022. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

In recent months Green noted that the greatest unmet need remains permanent housing options and services for the chronically homeless – those who are highly visible in city parks and often most in need of mental health and/or addiction services as well as safe housing.

While she has said believes the city can wrap its arms around the problem, it won’t happen until more barriers are removed and there is a unified commitment to recognizing the humanity of each homeless individual.

Green’s HOPE initiative, which stands for Housing Options Promote Empowerment, included “housing strategies for all people, and all incomes of the Queen City… committed to humanity and the diversity of communities. Our core values of service, pride, integrity, respect, and teamwork represent Manchester’s Spirit.”

Said Long, “I can see where her frustration is. I truly believe if she had an endless amount of money for what she needed and buildings to use for housing, this issue would be gone – and we would be taking care of people in a humane way.”

Long said ideally the city will be able to find someone to pick up where Green has left off.

“We were hoping for the best but not giving her what she needed to get where she needed to go. She got herself some volunteers and set up the HOPE program where she hustled to get businesses and entities, like Walmart and others, to put money into sustaining her program,” Long said. “I’m heartbroken she’s leaving.”


 

About this Author

carol-robidoux

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!