MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester Homeless Initiatives (DHI) Director Schonna Green has a lot to juggle. She fields calls and receives emails from citizens asking that something be done. She works at finding, creating and developing supportive, affordable and fair market housing. She coordinates city, county and state agencies in providing but not duplicating services. She encourages communities of faith and everyone else in Manchester to find their better angels and work together as a city to address the homelessness issue, mindful that we didn’t get here overnight.
If an idea hits Green at 3 a.m. her wheels hit the ground spinning. How can the city avoid duplicating services and yet have departments and agencies do their piece to the best of their abilities? Is the needle exchange program working? I’m meeting with pastors, priests and rabbis today. How can I get them on board? Where can we get the money for a second warming station? What can I personally celebrate this day?
If it was a thousand miles into the woods, it’s going to be a thousand miles out. The problem of homelessness is complicated. Alcohol, drugs, mental illness and the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots are just four issues. Green didn’t invite the opioid epidemic here. She didn’t allocate chump change per citizen to the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester. She didn’t encourage Manchester’s most intractable homeless population, those living in the woods. She didn’t create a scenario where an individual or a family needs $3,000 upfront to rent an apartment, close to impossible without a living wage.
And yet Green remains an eternal optimist, a force of nature who questions, inspires, plans and jumps into action. She comes from a military family. She doesn’t like to hear excuses.
“People camping in public places is not our issue,” she said. “Our issue is those creating biohazardous waste, squatting on other people’s land and property, utilizing propane tanks or things that can explode, and disturbing the community. Our main goal and objective is to have campers avail themselves of the social services available from local non-profits, and to come out of the woods.”
Green has created a 14-category spreadsheet that spells out three things: due process and legal steps; who is responsible for which duties and services; and how those services can effect solid change:
- Go to the Homeless Initiatives Department on the City’s website, manchesternh.gov, and fill out a Homeless Encampment form. This initiates a site visit by the outreach team. The heart of this team is the Manchester Fire Department, the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester and DHI.
- Determination of whether the encampment is on public or private land.
- Involve the City Solicitor’s office only if issues escalate.
- If public land, is it city, county, state or federal? Have both public and private land posted “No Trespassing.”
- Notify all department heads if necessary.
- Has a trespass been executed? If so, fill out trespass form through DHI. Alert Manchester Police Department (MPD).
- Schedule date of closure. This is either five, seven or 10 days.
- Enforce the closure.
- Clean the encampment.
- Make sure that displaced homeless people are visited by the outreach and homelessness teams again.
- Repost “No Trespassing” if necessary.
- If ignored, MPD gets involved. Is the status then resolved or still open?
- Make additional contact if needed.
- Change public land status to deferred or resolved at this time.
Green refers to this spreadsheet as the “Encampment Pipeline.” It is both organized and transparent.
“One of our tasks is to approach this in as humanitarian a way as possible,” Green concluded.