MANCHESTER, NH (story updated 3 p.m.) – Thursday morning two large transport vans from Granite Recovery Centers pulled up at the homeless encampment on state property. Staffers from the center were making the rounds, speaking directly to campers, asking if they’d like a warm bed and some good food.
They were there to pluck 22 of the campers from the site.
According to Granite Recovery Center CEO Eric Spofford, who was there, he got a call on Wednesday from the state, asking if he could extend a contract with the state through the end of March for 22 respite beds.
Spofford acknowledged this method of recruitment for filling respite beds, by going into a homeless camp and loading people up into vans, is not how they usually operate.
“The state called me yesterday and asked if we could extend our contract with them. We were able to step-up to the challenge. We were asked to help, and we know there are a lot of people who need help,” Spofford said. “There’s a scarcity to access of treatment beds, so we’re fully committed to help these people. The problem is much larger than most people know.”
The sole-source contract, approved by the Executive Council in November of 2019 for $2,111,500 was paid with federal SAMHSA State Opioid Response Grant money. A call to Katje Fox, Director of Behavioral Health for the state, to find out if the contract extension is covered by SAMHSA or if the state is using general funds was not immediately returned.
That contract expired Sept. 29, 2020.
According to the original contract, the cost was calculated at $250 per bed per day. At that rate, respite beds for 22 people through March 31, 2021 would cost about $731,500.
For those who might need detox services or other accommodations should they decide to go into rehab, Spofford did not know what costs might be associated. He did said they would provide transportation for appointments for substance use, mental health or visitation with children.
Spofford said 99 percent of those they had lined-up beds for from the courthouse camp said they were using drugs or alcohol, or suffered from substance use disorders. Granite Recovery Centers are focused on recovery and do not allow drugs or alcohol on site, even at the respite sites, located in Effingham and Derry.
If someone who takes a ride to the respite center changes their mind, they can get a ride back to the encampment, Spofford said
“But the gold standard is getting them into recovery,” Spofford said.
When asked what about the hundreds of others living homeless in Manchester and the state, Spofford apologized.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know anything more. The state asked what we can do and this is what we can do. There’s a scarcity of access to treatment beds out there, and so I really don’t know what’s going to happen to the rest of them,” he said.
During the recent gubernatorial campaign, Dan Feltes, who was running against Sununu, criticized the no-bid contract with Granite Recovery Centers, pointing out that Sununu’s campaign had received a $7,000 donation from Granite Recovery Centers, the maximum allowed for an individual or corporation.
Questions and answers
It sounded too good to be true for two men who approached Spofford with questions.
“We froze our asses off last night,” Clifton Gifford said. He and his friend, Steve, have been camping near Belmont Hall. Steve and Clifton said they’re ready to get warm. Steve said he just wanted to go get his nebulizer, which he hasn’t been able to charge.
“It’s going to take me an hour to get back,” Steve said. Spofford told him the van would stop on the way to Granite Recovery House.
Rumors circulating for days among the homeless, that the state was going to offer hotel vouchers and a ticket out of the camp has attracted more campers to the site.
Another couple considering the offer was sitting on a cement block next to the courthouse, Brandon and his girlfriend, Lexi. They were approached about getting a bed. All they had to do was get into the van and go.
“Can we sleep in the same bed?” Brandon asked.
“It’s possible,” said Justin, one of the staffers. “We have a couple of couples there, but it’s twin beds.”
“What kind of food is there? Brandon asked.
“Well tonight it’s pizza,” Justin answered.
Can we stay with our friend, too? He’s gotta come with us,” Brandon said of the guy sitting next to his girlfriend. They have been inseparable at the camp.
“I say let’s go,” Brandon said.
Lexi, his girlfriend of six years, was not so anxious. “I’ve been to rehab before. They’re going to separate us,” she said.
Justin acknowledged that if they did go into rehab, that would likely happen.
“This is respite we’re talking about. Rehab’s a different story, dude – you know how that goes,” Justin said.
“Well then, maybe you should go. I’ll stay,” said Lexi.
The couple took a walk to the corner store to discuss it.
A chance at keeping his job
Meanwhile, another Granite House staffer brought Dana Springer over to speak to Eric.
“He says he works the night shift. If he comes with us can he go to work at night?” she asked Spofford.
Springer, a combat veteran who does not suffer from drugs or alcohol, is awaiting a court hearing in January related to a domestic incident. He’s been staying at New Horizons, but hasn’t been able to go to his job in Massachusetts because there is a 7 p.m. curfew at New Horizons.
Spofford thought they could work something out.
A swig of beer for Brandon before climbing aboard the Granite House Recovery van for a chance at a respite bed with his girlfriend, Lexi, courtesy of the state. Photo/Carol Robidoux
Statement from the Department of Health
Several hours after Granite Recovery House had come and gone, the state issued the following statement:
“On November 19, officials from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, the Attorney General’s Office and local providers, were again onsite at the Hillsborough County North Courthouse property to continue working with the individuals to move to alternative and safe housing opportunities.
Also present were New Hampshire State Police troopers, who are specially trained in mental health awareness and de-escalation as part of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and under the direction of Major Russell Conte.
Over the past several days, State officials and providers have worked directly with the individuals to assess their specific needs and to coordinate and obtain those services for them. On Monday, approximately 70 individuals were part of the encampment. As of this morning, that number had decreased to approximately 45.
As previously explained, over the past several months each individual has repeatedly been offered alternative housing opportunities but have declined them. Fortunately, throughout the course of this week many have shifted their stance and have since indicated that they are willing to accept services.
Today, we approached the individuals in the encampment and presented them with several options. These options include housing with accompanying transportation offered by several providers across the state, transportation to stay with family or friends, or relocation to another encampment. Because of those efforts, 27 individuals have accepted services and have left or are in the process of leaving the encampment.
State officials and providers will continue to work with the remaining individuals to accept offered services.”
Upon learning that the state had moved 22 people from the courthouse property, Mayor Joyce Craig released a statement, as well.
“I am grateful that the State has been able to identify 22 additional shelter beds in Derry and Laconia for those experiencing homelessness on their property at the Superior Courthouse. This is a perfect example of what can happen when the State engages in the fight against homelessness and uses its superior resources to work toward a solution.
No one should be living unsheltered, and today, we made progress for 22 people. There are hundreds more experiencing homelessness throughout the State of New Hampshire, including many still residing at the Superior Courthouse.
Every day, the City of Manchester is working with our community service providers to identify additional shelter beds and provide service options for those living outside.
Now that cold weather has arrived, we hope that the State uses the same resources they did to relocate those staying on their property for the hundreds of other New Hampshire residents currently experiencing homelessness.”
One for the road
Another man who said he had come to Manchester from New Orleans to get clean, wanted to go.
“I’m ready to go to rehab,” he told Justin. “When can I go? Do you give comfort meds, because I don’t want to come off fentanyl without it,” he said, while texting someone.
“You ready,” Justin asked the man.
“Hold on. I’m figuring it out now. I’m pretty sure,” he said.
Meanwhile, Brandon and Lexi were on their way back to the camp from the convenience store, holding hands. They had decided to go in the van, mostly based on Brandon’s enthusiasm, said his girlfriend.
“One more for the road,” Brandon said, lifting a tall beer to his lips and leaning back for a long drink.
Below is a copy of the original state contract with Granite House Recovery Centers.