Mark Hayward’s City Matters: Homeless kids in Manchester ‘not a new thing’

New Hampshire Union Leader
Mark Hayward
Monday, April 16, 2018

Officials acknowledged Friday that at least two dozen children live in “unsheltered” situations such as cars and homeless camps.

The “unsheltered” category also includes children living in structures without basic necessities such as electricity or running water, said Jocelyne Pinsonneault, homeless education liaison for Manchester schools. 

In March, the Manchester schools counted 28 children in such situations. Half of them attend elementary schools.

“This is not a new thing. This has been going on for years,” said Pinsonneault, who added that the actual number is probably larger and will likely grow. Warm weather will draw some families to campgrounds and out of situations where they double up with others, she said.

On Friday, New Hampshire Union Leader photographer Tom Roy quoted Patrick Baker, who said he shares a homeless camp with his girlfriend, his 5-year-old son and another man. Baker had called 911 to report a propane-fueled fire in an adjacent camp.

The only shelter in the city that takes families off the street is Family Place Resource Center and Shelter, which is operated by Families in Transition – New Horizons, said that organization’s spokesman, Michele Talwani. The shelter, located on Lake Street, has room for 11 families and is usually full.

“It’s not enough. There are people on our waiting list living outside in tents and in cars,” she said. 

Family Place has a waiting list of 77 families, with 28 of those sleeping in vehicles, outside, or other places not meant for human habitation, Talwani said.

The reasons run the gamut: unemployment or underemployment, drug use, mental illness, expensive rents, she said.

“It’s a community issue,” Talwani said. “We say that every time a child moves, they lose. Stability is a key. It’s hard to concentrate at school, hard to make friends.”

When the shelter is full, Families in Transition – New Horizons refers homeless parents to the Manchester Welfare Department. The Welfare Department maintains its own rooms at Family Place, but when they’re full the Welfare Department sends families to The Welcome Center rooming house, said Tim Soucy, city health director and acting welfare director.

But he stressed that homeless families have to ask and prove their eligibility.

“They have to come in,” he said. “We’re not out looking for them.”

Likewise, a spokeswoman for Mayor Joyce Craig said a lot of organizations both inside and outside City Hall will connect homeless people to services.

Spokeswoman Lauren Smith said homeless camps are removed after a two- to three-week process that involves notification to the residents and offers of help.

“When a camp has to be removed, it is only if there have been complaints from the public or if public health or safety is an issue,” she said.

According to state data on homeless students, Hillsborough County had between 1,299 and 1,403 homeless students during the 2017 school year. The state logged 3,562.

In total, Manchester counts 783 children in all different kinds of homeless situations — unsheltered, living in shelters or doubled with another family.

Pinsonneault said the city’s schools offer to assist homeless children and their parents with food and housing. Sometimes they don’t accept the help.

“It’s not a crime to be homeless,” she said. “Parents try the best they can.”

The Division of Children, Youth and Families provided a statement about homeless families: “As in all situations, if there is a concern about child abuse and/or neglect, a report should be filed and we would respond accordingly. All New Hampshire residents are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect.”

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