With no place else to call home, woman – and her pug – are living next to park in a Jeep

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Jane Barna checks on Winston Churchill, her 9-year-old pug, emotional support dog and constant companion, who lives with her in her Jeep. Barna has been living this way since April, after Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds dried up snd she was ousted from the Comfort Inn. Photo/Pat Grossmith

MANCHESTER, NH –  From time to time over the past four years, Jane Barna’s 2008 Jeep has been both her transportation and her home.

Earlier this year, the Comfort Inn was her residence, paid through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.  But in April, funding ran out and those who were single or without children, were ousted from the motel.  Families were turned out on June 16.

With no affordable apartment in sight, Barna was back living in her Jeep.

She was one of the people who parked alongside Bronstein Park but moved when the city posted signs banning parking there from dusk to dawn a few weeks ago, citing complaints from neighbors and drug and other illegal activity.

Barna said there were a couple of people who were dealing drugs and the school (Central High School ) “is right there.” Parents were complaining about all the drug activity.  Barna said, however, it isn’t true that all the people living in the cars were doing drugs.

“That wasn’t true,” she said.  “I don’t.  I have a lot of health problems. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink.  But because of a couple of people there, they put up those signs.”

The Board of Aldermen is supposed to be reviewing the parking restrictions at their July 11 meeting.

Previously, Barna parked her Jeep on Manchester Street, near the Families In Transition homeless shelter, but people there would play football in the street and one day the ball hit her windshield, cracking it on the driver’s side, she said.  The crack is still there since Barna doesn’t have $500 for the replacement.

“It was bad there,” she said, of parking outside the shelter.  The drug problem was out of control and there were many overdoses, she says.

“I saw a few of those in front of my truck,” she says.  She said the conditions at the shelter are not ideal, and mentioned bed bugs and lice. Her doctor wrote a letter to housing officials, the state Department of Health and Human Services and the shelter saying that, for health reasons, she couldn’t stay there.

Now her “residence” is on Concord Street, next to Victory Park.  A 9-year-old pug named Winston Churchill is her constant companion, emotional support dog and roomie. 

Living in a car is tough, says Barna, who uses a cane to walk.  On an overcast muggy Monday, Barna is sitting in her Jeep, the windows all down.  Winston is in the back seat but moves to the front console to see who the visitor is.

Barna, her gray hair tied up in a bun, is wearing a red top, a T-shirt she made sleeveless with a V-neckline with a few clips of a scissors, and gray capri pants.

When restaurants are closed, you have to go to the bathroom in your car.  If you try to go outside and an officer sees you, you get arrested, she said. 

In New Hampshire, urinating or defecating in a public place is a violation. 

Some officers will stop to ask if she is OK or if she needs anything, “just to make sure I am all right.”

She said for the most part, police officers have been OK in dealing with her.  Then, there are the others.

“Some shouldn’t be dealing with the public,” she said.  “They can be downright nasty.  They look at you like you are dirt.  It’s awful.”

Manchester Police were contacted by the Ink Link for this story but were unavailable for comment.

Housing scarcity

In July 2022, the state began paying for lodging for people unable to find housing because of the tight market and soaring rents.

About 1,000 people were housed in motels with the state covering the costs.

Many of them were evicted because a landlord wanted to renovate their apartment or they fell behind in their rent after it was increased by hundreds of dollars a month.

On April 1, 2023, the state stopped paying the lodging costs for individuals in motels.  Many of those individuals were elderly and/or disabled.   For families, the emergency assistance ended on June 15, 2023.

Jessica Margeson, tenants’ rights organizer with the Granite State Organizing Project, said she doesn’t know of anyone keeping track of where those individuals went.  She said many of the families who were at the Comfort Inn in Manchester went to live with relatives.  

Some individuals found room at shelters and others, she said, are living out of their cars but she does not know how many of them have done that.

But Barna is one of them.

Series of unfortunate events

For four years, Barna has been on “every housing list waiting” for an affordable apartment to open up, no simple task since her income is only $934 a month.  A room became available for her at the Brook Street Women’s Shelter, Barna said, but then it was announced that the facility will shut down as of June 30 because of its inability to come up with $550,000 to keep it open.  The YWCA NH opened the shelter in January, with $247,000 in city funds, as a wintertime fatality prevention effort.  It housed up to 16 women, providing food and other assistance to break the cycle of homelessness.

Manchester is Barna’s hometown.  “I was born and raised in Manchester,” she said.  

Her road to homelessness began in 2001.  She owned her own home, when that year, she married.  It was a bad marriage, she said.  At the time, she was working at Easter Seals.  When her marriage ended, she sold her house and bought another home in Hillsborough.

She became ill and ultimately was unable to continue working.  Unable to cover her expenses, she sold her home and moved in with one of her sisters.

That didn’t go well, she said.  Two family members had drug issues and one was raising pit bulls to fight, she said.

“She would use my dogs as bait,” Barna said.  “I put up with enough of that and I moved out.  That was the beginning of my homelessness.  I just packed everything I could and moved back to Manchester.”

When the pandemic first hit in early 2020, it was a tough time, she said.  She had obtained a voucher for housing but no one was showing any apartments because of Covid.  A room was found for her at the Comfort Inn.   

Then April came and, she said, the elderly and disabled were booted from the hotel.  ERAP funds had dried up.

Her Jeep became her home once again and with it comes the nasty comments people driving by hurl at her.

“A lot of us come from good families and we can’t help what happened to us,” she said.


About this Author

Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.