Weekend demonstration outside FIT shelter calls for improvements, staff changes

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Jae, 20, who declined to give his last name, was among the protestors Saturday outside Families in Transition – Adult Emergency Shelter, 199 Manchester St. He was homeless for about a year and needed to use the shelter. He said in the shelter are not treated with respect./Pat Grossmith

MANCHESTER, NH – About a dozen people turned out Saturday afternoon to protest conditions and policies at Families in Transition (FIT) – Adult Emergency Shelter, 199 Manchester St.

The protest was a follow-up to a lengthy public statement anonymous activists, residents and former staff submitted to the shelter’s board of directors, and a speech delivered by Brandon Lemay, Rights and Democracy Organizer, at the behest of the Manchester Houseless Union and Friends, to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen earlier in the week.

They called attention to what they describe as “deplorable and inhumane conditions” at the shelter, including one working shower for men in the facility; a broken lift, making it impossible for at least one disabled woman from showering or reaching the dormitory rooms on the upper levels; a bedbug infestation; and rigid facility rules that residents say treat them like inmates.

The protesters carried signs stating, “Failing Integrity Test,” for FIT; “Support for Homeless;” “Being Homeless Is Not a Crime;” “Dignity Matters,” among others.

Contacted Saturday for comment, shelter spokesman Kyle Chumas said FIT board members were looking into issues raised by the protesters, and that they were working on a response that would be available later this week.  Last week FIT issued the following response to Lemay’s public comment and submitted letter:

“Families in Transition has received the letter and is taking the allegations very seriously. Our board and our staff are reviewing each claim to get as much detail as possible. We will report our findings to the mayor and board of alderman, as has been requested by the Mayor.”

Tricia McQuaid has been living at the FIT shelter since Sept. 13. A broken wheelchair lift means she has had to sleep in a dining area. Photo/Dam Wright

Patricia “Tricia” McQuaid, 57, has lived at the shelter since Sept. 13, after her eviction from her Salem home.  She said her son had a “no trespass” order and when he went to her house to get her medication, the landlord issued the eviction notice.  She said her rent was paid in full.

A former computer operations analyst earning $80,000 annually, she now is a diabetic and confined to a wheelchair because of serious medical issues with her spine.

She said because the shelter’s lift is broken, she is unable to access the showers or a dormitory room on the upper floors.  Staff, she said, gave her wet wipes to use to cleanse herself and her sleeping quarters is in the dining room area.

McQuaid said she had to argue with a staff member to get an extra towel to place on the floor so she doesn’t slip on water when she takes a sponge bath.  McQuaid said the shelter has a very limited supply of towels, which are only hand towels, not bath towels, and residents are limited to one.

McQuaid said she developed a yeast infection because of not being able to shower properly.  “They gave me Lotrimin to use,” she said.  Lotrimin is an over-the-counter, antifungal medication used to treat vaginal infection, diaper rash and jock itch.  When she was taken to the hospital for pneumonia, she said the doctors prescribed the proper medication.

At the hospital, she said doctors were afraid she was going to have congested heart failure because she was “swelling like crazy” and said she needed to rest three times a day, that is to lie down.  She said she provided shelter staff with the doctor’s note but they refused to let her do that.

McQuaid needs insulin injections every three days, medication that requires refrigeration.  She said at least two other residents take insulin as well.  She asked the staff to refrigerate her insulin but they refused, she said, because they said medication and food cannot be stored together.  McQuaid said they refused to buy a small refrigerator to store medications for residents.

As a result, McQuaid said 12 of her insulin doses had to be thrown out because they went bad.  A former staff member, she said, now refrigerates the insulin for her.

The protesters want the shelter’s management to reassess how they operate the facility; remediate bed bugs; increase basic supplies such as blankets and towels; make the shelter more handicap-accessible and provide better conditions for staff.  They are calling for the removal of two staff members. 

Jae, 20, now works as a research associate at Waypoint.  In the past year, he was homeless for about six months because of family and job issues.

Winter Trabex has made use of the FIT shelter several times over the past few years. She is also an advocate for change and an occasional community contributor for the Ink Link. Photo/Pat Grossmith

He was housed in the shelter but doesn’t believe it helped him because of the apathy of the staff.  Those staff members who wanted to help, he said, were fired because they were breaking the rules.  One time, he said, it was snowing and 40 degrees outside.  The staff still would not allow people inside the facility, even disabled people were left out in the cold, he said. 

The shelter follows a set schedule when residents are allowed inside.

“They’re not treated with respect,” Jae said.  “They’re herded like cattle.”

He said it was Waypoint that helped him get on his feet.

Steve, 65, has been living in the shelter for four months.  He worked in the printing business his entire life.  He is divorced but had been in a relationship with a woman for 20 years until her death in June.  He’s been homeless since.

He has no complaint about the shelter and said he is grateful for a roof over his head.

Dan W., a former staff member who declined to give him full name, said the shelter also has decided they don’t want any of the homeless to gather on the sidewalk outside the facility.  Last week, he said, when they cleared everyone from the sidewalk, they brought in a dumpster and threw out all the belongings left behind, including hats and gloves and other warm-weather clothing.

The shelter also won’t let former residents check into the building after 7 p.m., resulting in people being left out on the streets all night.

He said one night he stayed with a young homeless woman outside the shelter all night to ensure staff wouldn’t shoo her away.  He said he doesn’t understand why the shelter doesn’t allow it given it is probably one of the safest places to be on the streets if no bed is available.

Another bone of contention is a black fence placed around the smoking area and the painting of the building, questionable expenses when residents said supplies — blankets, towels, pillows – are in short supply.

McQuaid said people are reaching through the black bars to say goodnight to family members.  It makes for a prisoner-type atmosphere, she said.

Dan W. said people are grateful for food and beds being, but they deserve to be treated with dignity.