MANCHESTER, N.H. – Discussion over what’s being done for the city’s homeless population came to a point of contention at Tuesday night’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meeting.
Although the topic is a frequent source of discussion during most BMA public comment sessions, frustration with the onset of winter led to additional debate that went beyond public comment.
Homeless advocate and outreach organizer Dam Wright told the BMA that some homeless individuals living in tents outside the Families in Transition (FIT) emergency shelter on Merrimack Street have begun to call it “Craigville” after Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig. Wright urged city officials to provide permanent housing for homeless individuals, stating that it is the only solution to help homeless individuals suffering from substance abuse. He also urged city officials to act with urgency on the matter, stating that no one has died in recent weeks, but there have been deaths inside the shelter.
Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg later confirmed that a death had occurred within the shelter, but added that foul play was not suspected and the matter was still under investigation.
Kelly McAndrew who, like Wright, has spoken up at meetings regarding the city’s response to homelessness in the past and criticized Craig’s response to the issue, reiterated her frustration during public comment.
“(Here are) a few questions that I’m not going to get a straight answer to, but might put a small thought in your head as you try to nestle on your warm and cozy beds tonight: Where am I going to get something to eat today? Where can I go to the bathroom? Where can I get some medical attention without having insurance? Where can I get treated like a human being and not an outcast? Apparently not here in Manchester,” she said to the board.
In response to public comment, Craig said that while the state funds FIT, the city and other organizations such as the 1269 Café on Union Street have done what they can, including providing bathroom access to the homeless. She added that the city has spent millions of dollars addressing the issue.
The mayor also provided information on healthcare services that were provided for homeless individuals as well as bathrooms that had been provided at Veterans’ Park in the past until homeless individuals were found using drugs inside the bathrooms.
“I feel like some of the individuals are coming and speaking talking to myself and this board like we like what’s happening, or we are proud of what’s happening,” said Craig. “This is a very complex issue and none of us want anyone living outside.”
She added that homelessness is a statewide issue and shelter capacity across the state is at its limit.
McAndrew tried to respond to Craig’s comment, but was ruled out of order, eventually forcing a brief recess as McAndrew left the Aldermanic chambers and other Aldermen spoke as McAndrew tried to continue responding without success.
Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long spoke in response to the public comments, defending the actions taken by the city and voicing his frustration with a lack of action from the state government. Long also represents Ward 3 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
“I’m a homelessness Alderman, is what I’m saying. As an Alderman, I have all my little things to do, however, I get a lot of calls,” he said. “I think we can use help with ideas, I haven’t heard any ideas. I need some ideas. I am willing to work with anybody. As I said before, anybody who has an idea, I am willing to work with. I’m still waiting to hear those.”
Ward 12 Alderman Erin George Kelly noted that additional resources are available for homeless individuals under 25 at Waypoint, where she serves as the Director of Homeless Youth and Adult Services.
Craig also stated that services are provided for homeless veterans by Liberty House and Harbor Homes.
Alderman At-Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur asked if members of the city’s homeless population could be transported to other locations in a manner comparable to the transportation of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Craig reiterated that New Hampshire’s homeless shelter capacity is near its limit and advised him to ask the city’s homeless population personally if they would like to go to Massachusetts. She added that while city departments will provide transportation for any homeless person that requests to go to another city, they cannot force anyone to leave the city against their will.
Levasseur asked Aldenberg and Manchester Fire Department Chief Ryan Cashin for details on whether city officials can help prevent future propane explosions within tents of homeless individuals. Aldenberg stated that there is an expectation of privacy for occupants of tents just like in any other domicile, although police do ask to make safety inspections and can remove propane canisters during those inspections if they are given permission by occupants of the tents.
Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry also reiterated a comment made by Wright, noting that efforts by the city to provide more affordable housing were not enough for those among the homeless who can’t afford housing, as disabilities limit their ability to find employment.
Craig thanked those who participated in the discussion and urged patience, stating that it takes time to build relationships with the city’s homeless population. A man who spoke during public comment was allowed to conclude the discussion, stating that additional life skills training was needed to help the homeless deal with the struggles they face.