Manchester aldermen give thumbs-up to mayor’s strategy to deal with homelessness

New Hampshire Union Leader
January 8, 2019
Kevin Landrigan

MANCHESTER — Mayor Joyce Craig’s strategy for dealing with the problem of homelessness in the city was endorsed by aldermen Tuesday night.

The centerpiece of the proposal will use $200,000 to expand services and make capital improvements to Families in Transition – New Horizons/New Horizons.

“If we can get someone to New Horizons during the day, then we can wrap the services around them that they need,” Craig said.

The mayor said no policy will serve all the homeless, as some steadfastly refuse to get help.

“We are not going to be able to help everyone. That’s the reality,” Craig said. “But through our intervention we can help some people.”

Maureen Beauregard, president of Families in Transition – New Horizons/New Horizons, said Craig’s plan will allow her to hire the staff needed to give services to the homeless during the day.

“What we are trying to do is to get people to stay at New Horizons, not go back on the streets and try to move them to permanent housing,” Beauregard said. “This is not about having a place where they can sit on the couch all day and watch TV. If they are there, they are going to work on what they need to do to improve themselves.”

Aldermen passed the plan on a voice vote.

Craig’s plan uses $130,000 of previously uncommitted Community Development Block Grant Money to make improvements to the Families in Transition – New Horizons/New Horizon shelter at 199 Manchester St.

These changes will repair deteriorated bathrooms, reconfigure interior space for substance abuse recovery areas and enhance safety in the building.

“The goal is to make the necessary renovations so individuals feel comfortable and safe going to the shelter, where they will receive the services they need,” Craig said.

The plan also uses $70,000 from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust to let the shelter open during the day. Another $119,114 would go toward hiring two case managers and one program support worker.

Alderman Keith Hirshmann praised first-term Alderman Tim Baines for “showing courage” by calling on city officials to deal with problems the homeless are posing to downtown businesses.

During the board’s public comment period, residents had plenty to say about the homeless problem.

Frank Rich, co-owner of the former Manchester police station at 351 Chestnut St., said he’s incurred many financial and security problems by renting part of his building to the 1269 Cafe, which provides food and shelter for the homeless.

“We made a terrible mistake renting to 1269 Cafe because we were naive about their control over their clients and the increasing aggressive and entitlement of this population,” Rich said. “We need to take our streets back so that our citizens can walk freely along Elm Street and eventually in the Millyard.”

Mary Chevalier of Londonderry, representing the 1269 Cafe, challenged Rich’s claims.

“We know homelessness is a problem. We are trying to provide a place for where they are at and make sure we can be part of the solution,” Chevalier said. “We have never had a drug overdose in that space.”

Mary J. Lemay of Hackett Hill Road said many of the homeless are able-bodied and could work but instead get more benefits from the government than others do.

“I am sick of them coming up and begging for money. ‘Go to work,’ I tell them. ‘You are too young to be out there begging like you are helpless,’” Lemay said.

Glenn Ouellette, a city resident, criticized Craig’s plan to purchase portable toilets in a city park.

“Portable johns in the winter? If it is good enough for the citizens to use in the cold, why not have all of you use them then,” Ouellette said.

The aldermen did endorse transferring $9,000 from budget contingency to cover the cost of two handicapped-accessible portable toilets in Veterans Park for a six-month pilot program.

City Solicitor Emily Rice and Police Chief Carlo Capano presented statistics and legal information on legal and law enforcement issues.

As a short-term solution, Craig said Manchester police have increased patrols in the downtown area. Capano warned it would cost in overtime more than $1 million to pay for two more officers working in the downtown round-the-clock.

Putting two more officers at work downtown throughout the day would require the need to hire nine full-time officers to cover all work and weekend days, the chief said.

Hiring new staff to perform this task would cost up to $800,000 a year, Capano said.

“Staffing downtown is not sustainable on a year-round basis. If we are devoting officers to the downtown it means I am pulling people out of other parts of the city and that can be a very risky venture,” Capano said.

Capano said his agency is all-in on the campaign to encourage citizens not to give money to panhandlers.

“Don’t be handing out money. It is more important for you to donate to the services that are provided to folks who are homeless,” Capano said.

The MPD has 56 officers who are part of a critical incident training unit that received 40 hours of training from the Manchester Mental Health Center.

During the summer, Capano said he directed school resource officers to have walking beats on Elm Street and also assigned a motorcycle police officer to the area.

Capano also utilized about $26,000 in federal grant money to provide overtime paid patrol staffing at night and on the weekends downtown.

During the school year, officer Anna Martin works full-time on Elm Street and does 30 to 50 business checks on each shift. Capano said he’s also reassigned some of his horse patrol during the winter months to Elm Street as well.

During the 2018 calendar year, Capano said there were 1,466 police-related events during a six-street block from Merrimack to Bridge Streets.

About a third of them, 412, were “public nuisance” events. Nearly half of them, 677, were motor-vehicle related.

Capano said he looked at reports for the previous two years and the public nuisance events were slightly lower in those years, about 340.

Last year there were 73 people arrested on Elm Street; 13 of them were identified as homeless, Capano said.

City Solicitor Rice said nuisance offenses amount to violations and are difficult to enforce if those charged do not pay fines that are levied.

Rice said the New Hampshire Supreme Court will provide guidance to Manchester and other communities later this year when it rules on the constitutionality of an ordinance in Rochester that banned “public camping” by the homeless.

A lower court struck down as unconstitutional Manchester’s ordinance to ban panhandling.

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