Last week the New Hampshire State Police dismantled the growing homeless encampment at 300 Chestnut Street in Manchester. The homeless encampment, which at the time of dismantling housed over 80 tents, had been a growing topic over previous weeks that the Attorney General’s office announced their intent to dismantle the encampment. The encampment area, which sits on state-owned land behind the Manchester courthouse, was deemed a “no camping” area on Nov. 6.
In response to this announcement, over 100 community members from across the state gathered at the encampment to protest the dismantlement and removal of the homeless from the land. Organizers of the protest, members of Party for Socialism and Liberation and the NH Youth Movement, stated that the purpose of their protest was to “prevent the illegal eviction of the community living in the encampment” per a press release on Nov. 18.
Organizers of the protests and other community members highlighted that a large amount of the homeless in the encampment were there as a result of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers also pointed out that the State of New Hampshire’s plan to address homelessness has not been updated since 2006.
Earlier in the month, a group of mayors from Manchester, Concord, Portsmouth, and many other of the state’s largest cities formally called on Gov. Chris Sununu to take more proactive action to fight the homeless crisis in the state. The mayors called for a “housing first” approach to combatting homelessness by ensuring that everyone has access to safe and affordable housing as opposed to relying on shelters to house homeless populations. Sununu responded praising the state’s response to the homelessness crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic and confirming that the state is working on a new plan to address homelessness to replace the outdated model.
Following the dismantlement of the encampment in Manchester, 22 of the homeless residing in the camp were transported to an emergency shelter arranged by the Department of Health and Human Services and Gov. Sununu in response to the current crisis. This still left a majority of the homeless within the camp with no place to go, with Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards stating that the state would help other homeless people “find housing alternatives and in some cases those housing alternatives would be other encampments.”
The city of Manchester seemed to have found an opportunity to make an emergency homeless shelter out of a Pearl Street commercial building that was up for lease and could house at least 50 people. However, before the deal could go through on the day before Thanksgiving, a local real estate developer Ben Gamache purchased the building. According to Manchester city officials, Gamache, who owns multiple apartment buildings adjacent to the building set to be used as an emergency homeless shelter, purchased the building so that it would not be used as a homeless shelter and subsequently devalue his apartment buildings in the area.
The city of Manchester is exploring multiple possible solutions to the current homelessness crisis including using state owned buildings such as the JFK Memorial Coliseum, a public skating rink, as an emergency shelter. The city is also working with local homeless shelters to try to arrange a solution, but almost all shelters are at max capacity due to social distancing requirements.
As we get closer to the winter months, city officials across the state are rushing to develop some solution to the homelessness crisis with the possibility of impending increased COVID-19 restrictions threatening to make their efforts even harder.
Photo Courtesy of Carol Robidoux / Manchester Inklink