Tensions rise at Aldermanic meeting over homelessness on Manchester Street

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Thomas Daskal holds up a bag of hypodermic needles he picked up near his property. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, NH – Discussion got heated during Tuesday night’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meeting as the topic returned once again to homelessness, this time largely around residents and business owners in the vicinity of the Families in Transition shelter on Manchester Street.

Public comment lasted over an hour, with speakers expressing varying views on their response to the issue but in general agreement that action must be taken regarding the growing number of homeless individuals congregating outside the shelter and other issues related to homelessness and housing insecurity.

Thomas Daskal, a resident of Merrimack Street, said that his interactions with homeless individuals have ranged from being unable to leave his home or get mail at his house to litter to threats of physical violence to others doing drugs or engaging in prostitution, urination or defecation near his house.

Daskal, who is also a business owner in the area, expressed his belief that homeless individuals decide to sleep in tents in order to do drugs as they cannot do drugs inside at the shelter. He also expressed frustration that people engaging in those actions are not being held accountable as other residents would along with his feeling of hopelessness to address the issue, which he believes impacts his personal safety.

“I can’t sleep at night. My stomach is turning and I’m worried that something is going to happen to me, and I’m going to lose everything because of someone who has nothing,” he said.

Daskal was not alone in this assessment. His brother James, who works nearby, also expressed frustration regarding negative encounters he’s had with homeless individuals. Representatives of the Ukrainian American Club and the Winona Social Club said their members have been harassed by homeless people and they have had to deal with loose used hypodermic needles and feces near their entrances, asking why they pay so much in taxes to the city if these issues cannot be addressed.

Several individuals that spoke during public comment also asked for action in support of Saigon Asian Market, which is about a block east of the shelter. Mark Brutus, the owner of an auto repair shop about a block south of the shelter, also expressed a sense of fear he has not experienced in his 23 years at his location.

2021 Mayoral Candidate and former Ward 9 Aldermanic Candidate Victoria Sullivan went as far as to say that Mayor Joyce Craig and 11 members of the BMA should resign over the lack of action regarding homelessness.

While no one supported the actions of those defecating or harassing others near Manchester Street, some said they were willing to do what it takes to help the city address the problem.

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During Tuesday’s meeting “Miss Kristine” Larocque of Kindertree Learning Center appeared before the board accompanied by Peter Ramsey of The Palace Theatre. Her daycare is across the street from the downtown encampment. Later in the meeting, Alderman Will Stewart referenced the above letter, which a constituent sent him, that announced Laroque’s plans to close the business in June after 18 years and sell the building due to the deteriorating conditions and lack of action by the city. Image/Facebook

Michael Ketchen, a developer looking to build several affordable housing units on Manchester Street, said that he wants to be part of the solution and challenged the Mayor and members of the board to visit the properties he is developing, which he says have been the targets of thefts as well as feces and used needless.

Norri Oberlander, a landlady of nearby properties, has raised more than $40,000 for portable housing units through an email campaign to fellow landlords. She echoed a sentiment shared by almost everyone who spoke: something must be done immediately and it will take everyone to do it.

“We need to stop the division and come together as a community,” she said. “It’s time to get everyone to the table or people on the streets will continue to die and create risk to others as we watch our city continue to decline residentially and commercially.”

Amanda Robichaud, Northeast Director of Business Development for Gatehouse Treatment, also offered to help homeless individuals looking to get off drugs, stating that she has seen a high barrier to those seeking to detox.

Homeless advocate Dam Wright thanked the city for their recent addition of a new city official tasked with preventing overdoses as well as the initial approach from the city’s new director of homeless initiatives.

In response to concerns from others regarding litter and feces, he said that porta-potties and sharps boxes would solve the problem “tomorrow” and provide evidence to those on the street that action will be taken to address the problem.

Later in the meeting, Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry asked why Wright was not doing more to address the behavior of homeless individuals near the shelter, telling Manchester Police Department Chief Allen Aldenberg that more should be done to remove people from sidewalks in the area.

Aldenberg repeated a statement he made at earlier meetings that he is unwilling to put his officers in situations where they may be forced to do something unlawful. In the past few weeks, his officers have made 21 arrests for situations where public safety was at risk, but stated that the city would not be able to “arrest its way out of the problem” given the current state of the court system and that removing the individuals would just recreate the problem in another part of the city.

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Joseph Kelly Levasseur on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Alderman At-Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur asked for Aldenberg’s resignation over not moving the homeless individuals. Levasseur, who toured the area on Saturday with several property owners, said he did not care if the problem was recreated elsewhere, as the homeless individuals had no respect for the law and others in the city should recognize the problems faced by the Manchester Street residents.

“It’s scary to be down there, it’s not real, but you know what it is, for the first time in six years, I sat here and listened to real people, real property owners and business owners. They poured out their goddamned hearts and souls to this board and you sit there and say you’re not going to move (the homeless), I’ll move them!” said Levasseur to Aldenberg.

Levasseur also criticized City Solicitor Emily Rice and her interpretation of the U.S. Ninth District Federal Court of Appeals Case Martin v. Boise, which has impacted many municipalities across the U.S. and their interactions with the homeless.

He said that the ruling in that case was very narrow and that municipalities were only limited in that they could not arrest people for solely being homeless and that in several parts of the 57-page decision, it would be constitutionally permissible to force people to move off public property such as sidewalks or streets.

Rice said that discussing legal strategy relating to the issue of moving homeless individuals off public property like sidewalks should be discussed in non-public session unless the BMA wished to waive its attorney-client privilege. The BMA later voted to go into non-public session to discuss this, something Levasseur opposed.

Aldenberg also challenged Levasseur on this point, saying that numerous citations have been given to homeless individuals in tents on the sidewalks, adding that he and his officers are frustrated and expending a disproportionate amount of resources in the area. He later conceded that Levasseur may be right to question the city’s current approach, not moving people from the public sidewalk. However, he repeated that his department will only take actions that are lawful.

Ward 8 Alderman Ed Sapienza stated his hope that the state legislature would be able to put people on a more humane version of county-run indignant farms.

Other Aldermen such as Ward 12 Alderman Erin George-Kelly, Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart, Ward 4 Alderman Christine Fajardo and Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long praised Aldenberg and other city officials for their efforts to solve the crisis while echoing a sense of urgency.

Long asked if $120,000 could be spent on a trailer to provide mobile bathrooms to those in the area, but Craig said that a location for the trailer would have to be found and staff would have to be on hand to avoid issues that arose, including illegal activity, when the city last tried placing portable toilets in the area of Veterans Park.

Craig asked Manchester Fire Department Chief Ryan Cashin whether the Cashin Senior Center could be used as an emergency overflow shelter if no room was left at Families in Transition and the warming center at the 1269 Café. Cashin said this was possible, although he was unsure if it could be used strictly as a shelter for women, despite a need for women-specific homeless beds.

Craig also referenced Robichaud’s comments regarding barriers to care for those seeking detox services and whether tax money used at nearby Doorways locations are being misused in that regard. She also urged patience, stating that Manchester is bearing a disproportionate load of the state’s homeless burden.

“It’s important that we understand that this is extremely complex,” she said. “There is a sense of urgency, and we are doing what we can.”

New Manchester Director of Homeless Initiatives Adrienne Beloin referred to the discussion as positive and felt that the idea and comments were productive, adding that efforts are being made to coordinate with other communities to discover best practices in aiding their homeless populations.

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Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia


About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.