MANCHESTER, NH – Michael Seiders was determined to stand his ground and not pack up his well-used green and beige tent even as 40 masked uniformed New Hampshire State troopers moved in Friday morning to evict about 50 homeless people from state property outside the Hillsborough County Superior Courthouse.
A 20-year resident of Manchester, Seiders’ defiance landed him in handcuffs on a charge of trespassing. For years, he worked for Labor Ready, earning minimum wage. As the years went by, it became impossible to pay rent and his home became Manchester’s streets. Then, years ago, he said he became disabled after being hit by a train behind Market Basket. His sole income is $624 a month in Social Security disability.
Most recently, he pitched his tent on the property on the north side of the courthouse, the epicenter of New Hampshire’s statewide homeless problem, pitting state against city.
Initially, he was cited for illegal camping, a violation, but when he refused to leave he was arrested on the new charge. Once troopers led him away from the site, other troopers moved in to dismantle his home and remove his property.
The troopers began evicting people about 7:15 a.m., waking sleeping campers many of whom quickly picked up their belongings and fled, presumably to one of the other 40 homeless encampments across the city.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Fire Chief Dan Goonan said they have outreach teams going to those encampments to find them. They said for months the city had outreach teams – comprised of personnel from the fire and health departments as well as the Health for the Homeless clinic and the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester – working daily to help obtain services the population needs. City welfare was also helping the homeless fill out applications for housing.
Some of the campers took their time gathering their belongings. Still others picked up their property but only traveled as far as the city-owned sidewalks or to the abutting Veterans Park. Kelly McAndrew, homeless about 10 years, said they were told they could put their tents up in the park but they had to remove them by 8 p.m. because of a park curfew.
She will spend at least Friday night at a local hotel because a city outreach worker gave her a voucher to cover the cost. The state, she said, didn’t offer anything.
New Horizons/Families in Transition were able to provide beds at the homeless shelter for about 10 people while the 1269 Café offered about a dozen more. The city was mobilizing an emergency shelter at a city-owned building that could accommodate about 40 cots.
McAndrew said, however, that she and others don’t want a shelter bed. (She used the shelter twice and said both times she ended up with scabies.)
“We want housing,” she said.
The city had nothing to do with the dismantling of the camp, which was coordinated by state police and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. Two weeks ago, the state Attorney General’s office posted signs informing the homeless of what was to come. The city had asked the state to open the armory to temporarily house the residents through winter or to allow the use of the former teen treatment center, abutting the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center but the state said no. At the present time, New Hampshire is negotiating with the state of Vermont to provide treatment at the center for Vermont’s youth.
David (he did not give his last name), who pitched a tent on the southside of the courthouse, said he became homeless when he lost his job in Nashua because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He declined to identify the company that employed him but said he worked there for four years.
He said he ended up in Manchester because he couldn’t find shelter in Nashua. Initially, the encampment on Canal Street, across from the state armory, was his home. At that time, he said, the state provided food, portable toilets, washbasins and trash pickup. But then, he said, they took it away.
So he and others decided to call attention to the plight of New Hampshire’s homeless and pitched their tents near the courthouse as a protest.
As he spoke, behind him people fitted in white hazmat suits were placing items in large bags and throwing them into a biohazard truck.
About 2 p.m., with the homeless mostly gone from the property, which had been enclosed with temporary fencing, a crowd of protesters moved in. Manchester police were called for an unruly crowd after a crowd began to surround a trooper attempting to arrest someone.
Manchester officers blocked the crowd, preventing them from getting any closer to the trooper. As they did, police said Joseph Castro Del Rio, 33, of Watertown, Mass., screamed into a microphone and tried to kick two officers.
When officers tried to arrest him, he ran but was cornered by other officers and taken into custody on charges of criminal threatening and resisting arrest.
Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg said the incident began when activists began pushing on the temporary fencing. He said those involved were from out-of-state. None of the homeless was involved in the incident, officials said.
The state, in a news release, said those camped on the property were repeatedly offered alternative housing opportunities from NH DHHS and local providers, efforts that continued through Thursday.
The state said they offered options included housing with accompanying transportation by several providers across the state, transportation to stay with family or friends, or relocation to another encampment. Additionally, mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) services were also offered to any individual requesting that support.
Troopers, trained in mental health awareness and de-escalation as part of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), were on site and assisted in those efforts this week. A total of 33 people agreed to go into a treatment program, paid for by the state.
The state said three people were issued summonses for illegal camping, a violation, and two who refused to leave were arrested for trespassing. One of them was taken by ambulance to a local hospital for a medical issue, but not before allegedly assaulting two ambulance personnel.
As of late Friday afternoon, state police had yet to release the names of those arrested.
State police are securing the courthouse property. A crew cleaned and cleared the property of any remaining items and debris.
City officials decried the state’s actions, particularly dismantling the camp during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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