MANCHESTER, NH – Mayor Joyce Craig is keeping momentum going in the new year when it comes to addressing the city’s homeless population.
Continuing the conversation that took place during December’s final Board of Aldermen meeting, the mayor last week sent board members a comprehensive blueprint of initiatives already in the works, and new business she’s proposing in the first months of 2019.
“Homelessness is a complex problem that stems from a combination of extreme poverty, mental health issues, substance use disorder and unaffordable and unavailable housing stock,” wrote Craig. “A number of agencies in Manchester have been working on these issues for many years; they’re doing exceptional work and making progress, yet there is still a lot of work to do.”
She called the city’s homelessness a “moral challenge,” adding that it will require a community-wide commitment to end homelessness in the city.
“The solution will not happen overnight, but I am confident that with the quality of organizations and city departments involved, and the compassion of Manchester residents, we will work tirelessly and collaboratively to put an end to homelessness in Manchester,” wrote Craig.
It has been a little more than a year since Families in Transition officially took over operation of New Horizons for NH, which provides a homeless shelter, soup kitchen and food pantry to the city’s disadvantaged population. As shelter executives plan to meet next week with the city Health Department and Welfare Department to go over efforts to serve the city’s homeless and needy for optimal collaboration and coordination, the mayor outlined a series of institutional, financial and practical initiatives for which she is asking the Board of Aldermen to study-up on and come back with ideas and suggestions in the coming months.
Short- and Long-term Solutions
In December, Alderman Tim Baines brought forward concerns on behalf of the downtown business community over increased visibility of homeless encampments on Elm Street, which they say negatively effects businesses and patrons.
Baines called for the city to come together with department heads and social service organizations for a public discussion of what can be done to alleviate homelessness, and identify shortfalls or needs that can be remedied by city leaders. A few days later Baines posted a video of a confrontation between a homeless man and first-responders after witnessing two people collapse on Elm Street and calling 911.
Craig, in the letter issued to the board, said that many initiatives were already in the works. One short-term solution of late are increased police patrols downtown. Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano will also join City Solicitor Emily Rice during the Jan. 8 BOA meeting to present current statutes, statistics and legal considerations for the city.
Funding for daytime shelter hours, public toilets; free data analysis
Craig added two proposals to the Jan. 7 Community Improvement Program Committee agenda:
- Using $130,000 in uncommitted Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to make improvements to the New Horizons shelter at 199 Manchester St. toward reconfiguration of interior space to create “safe recovery” areas for those dealing with substance abuse, rehabbing of deteriorated bathrooms, various renovations to improve safety and enhance delivery of services.
- Using $70,000 of the Affordable Housing Trust to allow the shelter to remain open during the day to establish a formal outreach program and intensive individual and group management.
On the agenda for the Jan. 8 Board of Aldermen meeting:
- Transfer of $9,000 from Contingency to Finance to cover the cost of two ADA-compliant portable toilets in Veteran’s Park for a six-month pilot, including a structure over the toilets and two daily cleanings.
Craig also announced that as a result of her participation in the Harvard/Bloomberg leadership program, Manchester is one of three cities selected to be paired with a team from Harvard Kennedy School for assistance on budgeting, financial management and operations. Grad students will be assigned at no cost to the city to do data analysis and help identify and quantify issues and cost consideration as they relate to homelessness. This will kick off in February, and will include a summer intern.
Public Awareness Campaign and Faith-based Initiatives
In response to comments during the Dec. 18 Board of Aldermen meeting by FIT-New Horizons President Maureen Beauregard, Craig announced a citywide public awareness campaign in the works on why it’s counterproductive for residents to provide money or food to panhandlers. Beauregard said that while people mean well, the practice of hand-outs to vagrants counters their efforts to get people to the shelter, where they can begin the process of comprehensive services. In conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce and Intown Manchester, a campaign is being designed to bring the community together in best understanding how to strengthen opportunities already available in the city to help those in need.
Another initiative will be to better organize the city’s many faith-based outreaches providing services for the homeless and needy. Through an initiative made possible by the National League of Cities Mayor’s Institute on Opioids, which Craig has been participating in since May of 2018, the mayor is planning to invite a pastor with proven experience who can work with the Greater Manchester Clergy Association to encourage collaboration and expand and maximize existing outreach and services.
Bringing City Leaders Up to Speed
Based on comments and discussion by city aldermen on this issue during December’s meeting, the mayor said she wants to ensure that elected officials are fully informed about existing services so they can be of best service to their constituents across the city.
The city’s FY2019 CIP budget has already allocated $1,836,250 toward homelessness and affordable housing. The mayor is arranging for Erin Kelly, Chair of Manchester’s Continuum of Care and Director of Homeless Youth Services at Waypoint (formerly Child and Family Services) to create opportunities for aldermen to visit and learn more about existing collaborative efforts that include FIT-New Horizons, Healthcare for the Homeless, The Way Home, Liberty House, Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, and Waypoint.
CIP 2020 budget meetings are tentatively scheduled for Jan. 22 where the current needs of the city will be discussed.
Below are supporting documents from the Jan. 7 CIP Committee agenda included with the mayor’s letter to the aldermen. As always, the public is encouraged to attend upcoming city meetings and consider speaking during the public comment portion, or communicate concerns through their elected representative. Contact information can be found here to know who your alderman is and how to contact him or her.