O P I N I O N
On May 28, the residents of 450 Douglas Street “The Bucket” were given notice that they were to clear out from the city by June 4. Some of those residents, like George Theberge have been there on and off since 2016. They had a community that supported each other, had movie night once a week, and shared supplies with each other when somebody was in need.
Why we fought this eviction
Much like the November 2020 Courthouse Eviction, houseless residents being evicted asked us to help them fight. In cases like the Boat Ramp eviction near the Fisher Cats Stadium, Amoskeag Bridge, and Firestone, the residents just wanted help moving or social media attention to draw eyes to the issue. Most of the time, residents want to be left alone, but sometimes they want to resist. As friends and allies to this community, it’s our obligation to help those who need to be helped, and to defend those who want to be defended.
I worked with allies and formerly houseless individuals to gather a list of demands from the residents of The Bucket. They center around having proper tenants rights, the right to make decisions for themselves, and better alternatives than the current shelter system. These are basic human rights that the city has ignored.
If the city were able to convince these residents to voluntarily move, we would have no need to protest these evictions. The city can post signs that say “There is safe shelter for all who need it in Manchester,” but it’s obvious that the houseless residents aren’t convinced that the shelter is right for them.
Of the approximately 20 residents of the Bucket, we helped about 16 of them move somewhere else in the woods, three of them still have no idea where they’re going, and one of them took a shelter bed with special conditions. If the city’s goal was to move these residents into a shelter, and only 5 percent of them did so, I’d say the city failed. If the city’s goal was to make the lives harder for 19 residents, I’d say they succeeded. As a consequentialist, the city’s intent doesn’t matter to me, only the results, which was more pain and suffering.
Clash with the Police on Monday
By 9:30 we counted close to a dozen police cruisers, and a SWAT team armed with AR-15 style rifles posted in the woods to flank the camp. The remaining residents barricaded the entrances while the police cleared the way for two dumpsters. Residents and protesters demanded that somebody from the city (who’s not a cop) come down to the encampment to talk with us to resolve this cooperatively. After some tense exchanges with cops and activists (and the media present), the police presence seemed to evaporate. Word came in through some of our sources that Manchester Director of Homeless Initiatives, Schonna Green was going to meet us at 9 a.m. the next morning.
Meeting With Schonna Green
Just like she said she would, Schonna arrived in the morning to talk with not just protestors, but specifically with residents of the camp. Activists expressed their concerns about the effect that sweeps have on not just the houseless, but the community as a whole. When camps are swept, perhaps the immediate area is free from houseless folks, but they end up going into another neighborhood and the cycle repeats itself. I talked with Schonna about a call I had with a homeowner on Douglas Street. This person told me,
“I don’t want to see these camps swept, it breaks my heart. But I can smell the garbage in the encampment from my backyard. I’m not angry at the residents, I wish the city would have collected their garbage. It only got bad when the city swept the Firestone Encampment. Those folks moved from there to this neighborhood. And if we clear them out, they’re just going somewhere else outside. I wish I knew what the answer is.”
There was a real good-faith dialogue that I appreciated with Schonna and the protestors. What impressed me the most was when Schonna said, “As much as I’d love to talk to you all, I want to talk with the residents who are affected”. Then she started a dialogue with just the residents at the entrance of the encampment. I wasn’t there to overhear the conversation, as I wanted to give Schonna and the residents some space. Within ten minutes of talking to them, Schonna got the holdouts to agree to move out of the camp without protest. And as soon as the residents wanted to stop resisting, the activists stood down. Schonna made sure that WMUR interviewed a resident, whose voice she was genuinely interested in uplifting. Schonna was able to get one person into a shelter bed, which is more than I’ve seen from any city or state official do at the various encampment sweeps I’ve witnessed.
Reactions from the Activists
While the city did not listen to our demands, there was a shift in how they responded to us after putting up resistance. We were upset that they sent close to a dozen police cruisers before we even saw one social worker on Monday. We believe that our protest drew enough attention from the media and the community to persuade the city to resolve this issue without police violence, but rather with diplomacy. Our demonstration also bought some folks more time to pack their things and relocate elsewhere.
The residents who didn’t take shelter weren’t helped, but we minimized the harm as best as we could. The consensus among the activists is that Schonna is still new to the city and we haven’t had enough time to see the effects of the policies that she has implemented. One protester said, “The conversation was tense at times but I think Schonna deserves the benefit of the doubt. She’s still new — she wants to form a commission with houseless residents and I want to help make sure they have the opportunity to join that.”
Another protester said, “I implored [Schonna] to cut through the politics and help us with the unhoused ASAP. Her plans for grants and trusts are all well and good, but that will take too long to help the people at the camps right now. I want to be optimistic. I think I am more than others [protesting]. I looked up what she did in Florida and it’s impressive, I did not like her finger-wagging yesterday but at the same time she was bombarded and probably feeling very outnumbered.”