Supporters of unhoused people gather to protest evacuation of Firestone encampment

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Photo/Winter Trabex

MANCHESTER, NH – On April 8, police arrived at a homeless encampment in force with an unequivocal message: everyone there needed to leave. Those living in tents were told they had one week to pack everything and go somewhere else. The camp, called Firestone, is so named due to its proximity to Firestone Complete Auto Care, which is also near Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. The evacuation order was carried out by police at the behest of Firestone, which is private property, according to a statement provided by the corporate office in Tennessee.

And on April 10 activists gathered in a parking lot at the corner of Granite and Canal Streets on a warm Saturday afternoon to protest the city and state’s treatment of their homeless population, including the most recent eviction notice. Though the event was scheduled to start at 2 p.m., participants spent an hour making signs and conversing with one another. Notably absent from the event was the homeless population itself; rather, community members had come to advocate on their behalf.

Signs saying “stop the sweeps,” and “housing is a human right,” were in evidence. Cars honked as they passed. Motorcycles rode by. Except for the odd patrol car, police were nowhere to be found.

Some protesters blamed Mayor Joyce Craig for her handling of the situation. Others blamed Alderman Joe Levasseur, or Governor Sununu. One idea was clear, no matter who was there: the situation has to improve.

Photo/Winter Trabex

Between 35 and 50 people have been camping on the Firestone property, some for as long as a year. A few of those people were camping on the courthouse property in November, prior to state police forcibly evicting homeless people from there as well.

The latest camp eviction will be the third to occur in Manchester in six months. In that time, two of the emergency shelters New Horizons was operating has since closed, leaving people who want shelter to take a chance on being turned away. Others have been moved from the shelter into intermediate housing units, a rent-free rooming house for homeless individuals.

Nevertheless, the problem of homelessness in Manchester not only remains, but continues to worsen. Each year, more and more people are staying outside in tents – in the snow, in bitter cold, in pouring rain, in mud, and, lately, in warm afternoon weather.

People in these camps are dying, such as 26-year-old Cody Ferry, who passed away last December. Fires at some of the camps – possibly due to unsafe usage of propane tanks for camping heaters have also occurred.

However, despite all the evictions, and homeless people being told to go somewhere else, there is not, as of yet, a concerted plan at the state level to eliminate homelessness. At the local level, Pat Long, an alderman from Ward 4, has been looking into establishing small domicile units.

The city has hired Schonna Green as Manchester’s first Director of Homeless Initiatives in March; she begins work on April 18.

Photo/Winter Trabex

That, unfortunately, will be too late for the people camped out near Firestone. By then, they will have all gone somewhere else. Some people, as is common during such evictions, may lose all their personal property. After the eviction on April 16, though the camp will be cleared, homelessness will remain a persistent problem.

The unanswered question is when and how things will improve.

On Saturday Alderman Long said it was his understanding that those involved with homeless outreach – including Families in Transition, Manchester Mental Health and Healthcare for the Homeless, are looking for placements or alternative locations for everyone.

“If they’re willing to accept it,” Long said, acknowledging that those who remain living rough are those who, for any number of reasons, do not want to stay at a city shelter.

Thus far, the city’s official position has been for people to donate money to organizations, rather than to the unhoused people themselves. Signs were put up some time ago declaring that charity could cause a fatality. Among the protesters Saturday were a group of people who regularly provide outreach to the unhoused population, providing essential items as needed.

Photo/Winter Trabex

A protester who spoke on condition of anonymity had this to say: “I’m a local person living in Manchester, and I think what’s going on with the city and the sweeps is an absolute shame because there is no place for people to go. The mayor is insisting campsites will continue to be swept, and no one really has anywhere to go.”