MANCHESTER, N.H. – A proposal to transform JFK Coliseum into emergency homeless shelter has been shelved after the announcement that a new temporary shelter has been discovered.
The discovery was made on Tuesday, just hours before an emergency meeting of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen to approve a lease agreement between Families in Transition/New Horizons and the city for the use of JFK from Dec. 7 to March 31 to temporarily house the city’s homeless population.
The need for an additional location comes due in large part to social distancing requirements at the Families in Transition/New Horizons primary facility, which is down from approximately 160 beds during normal circumstances to the 60 that can be placed safely while meeting COVID-19 social distancing requirements.
Angie’s Place on Union Street has been added as another temporary shelter that can hold 39 beds, but both Angie’s Place and Families in Transition/New Horizons are currently at capacity. The 1269 Café and William B. Cashin Senior Center are ready to serve as overflow facilities, but the number of beds at those facilities was not discussed during the meeting.
The 1269 Café however was provided with $80,000 for second floor bathroom and shower facility renovation that will support transitional housing for 32 homeless individuals in a vote later in the meeting. Additionally, just under $1.4 million was approved in CARES Act-related funding to support homeless individuals and families dealing with COVID-19, as well as the $1.1 million in Community Improvement funding originally slated to renovate JFK, which will now go to the new facility.
The location of the facility was not officially announced during the meeting, with Pat Long (Ward 3) stating that the location would be publicly announced once contractual agreements and other details are finalized. Joseph Kelly Levasseur (At-Large) alluded to the location being 77 Pearl St., a building just one block north of Bridge Street.
Levasseur praised the ejection of homeless individuals from the Hillsborough County North Superior Court House facility last week, stating that it has given hope to residents and business owners in the downtown area.
“It’s just a breath of amazing fresh air and we need to continue going in that direction,” he said.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig also praised social services that were provided to 22 homeless people removed from the property, but still hoped the state could do more for other homeless individuals and agreed with Ross Terrio (Ward 7) and further discussion with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services over further coordination is welcome.
In regard to any remaining homeless individuals still camping at Veterans’ Park, adjacent to the courthouse, City Solicitor Emily Rice said that camping of any sort within a city park is prohibited and there is currently at 11 p.m. curfew for anyone at city parks, with the mayor praising efforts by the Manchester Police Department to uphold those two ordinances.
Craig says she does not support an additional permanent shelter in the city, stating that additional coordination toward a statewide homelessness strategic plan is needed to prevent homeless people from other parts of the state from gravitating to the city.
That came following a comment from Michael Porter (Ward 8) who said he supports the temporary new facility, but sees it as a “band-aid” and requested assurances that more work would be done on a long-term plan after the conclusion of the winter.
UPDATE: 11/25/20 – 11:48 p.m. – During the meeting, Long referenced a discussion with Michael Reed of Stebbins Commercial Properties. On Wednesday morning, Reed could not provide a timeline on when negotiations regarding 77 Pearl St. would conclude, confirming that they began on Tuesday. Reed said that retrofitting of the office building may need to take place, but was thrilled that the property was being considered for this purpose.
“It’s a great option for families in transition and it’s doing two great things, it’s going to be getting homeless people off the street and it will keep the coliseum open so kids can keep on playing hockey. I think its fantastic,” he said.