Police face standoff at homeless camp on the West Side

·4 min read

Jun. 7—Activists blocked Manchester police from entering a West Side homeless camp Monday morning, forestalling, at least temporarily, the eviction of the well-hidden camp.

Nearly a dozen officers were on hand, including Chief Allen Aldenberg, at a wooded area off Douglas Street Extension. Two weeks ago, the city warned the camp would be cleared on Monday.

"We are taking this slow," police spokesman Heather Hamel emailed the Union Leader. The city has left totes fir camp residents to stow their valuables and a dumpster for them to discard their trash.

Schonna Green, city director of homeless initiatives, will visit the camp today along with a representatives from Families in Transition and Manchester police to speak to the people there, Hamel said.

"We are trying to avoid any unnecessary confrontation, but the quality of life issue needs to be addressed," she said.

Since November, city and state officials have taken active roles in clearing at least four camps, some of them high profile, but activists said other low-profile clearings have taken place as well.

The change of plans occurred after about 20 activists, nearly all young adults, were on hand at the camp Monday morning.

On Sunday, they released a statement with three demands: enough time to evacuate, a right to live outside without fear of police throwing away their possessions, and better alternatives than the New Horizons shelter.

"It is not a crime to be outside and we are not criminals because we don't have access to houses," reads part of the statement.

The letter said some have lived at "the Bucket" — a dip in Douglas Street Extension — for four years and built footbridges and kept the area clean.

"We get that we aren't supposed to be here. But where can we go?" said Kevin Lafond in remarks distributed by the newly formed Manchester Houseless Alliance. The city and state have kicked some people out of numerous homeless camps, he said.

"You keep forcing us to scatter and move around. That's not helping us," he said.

Eventually, police brought in bins for homeless residents to store their possessions and said they would return at 3 p.m. to pick up the bins.

Activists hung signs on trees, and a stockade fence blocked access across a footpath about 100 feet from the road. Activists wore masks and shouted slogans, including "Eviction is violence. Eviction is murder."

The activists avoided giving an exact number of how many people live at the site. It changes often, in part because the city clears out other camps, they said.

Mayor Joyce Craig, who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday for the new Families in Transition/New Horizons food pantry, said more than 40 beds are available at New Horizons and there are others at the Christian-oriented 1269 Cafe.

"We know that it's better for people to be in shelters. And so we're encouraging folks to head into those shelter beds rather than living outside in an environment that may not be safe for their own well being," Craig said.

But Kelly McAndrew, a former homeless person, said a lot of people who live in camps are banned from the shelters.

"There's not an option for them," she said. She also said some of the rules are challenging, such as a person must show an ID to get access to their bin.

At one point, police threatened people with arrest if they did not move from the spot where a dumpster was dropped. The activists moved, but then activists and police faced off in front of the fenced entrance to the camp.

After 15 minutes, police retreated to the street. Eventually, the city Highway Department delivered bins and said camp residents could use the bins to store their valuables.

Gov. Chris Sununu, who appeared at the ribbon-cutting with Craig, said he wants the Biden administration to loosen the strings on $185 million distributed to the state.

"Right now it's tied up in rental relief. We don't have many takers for rental relief," he said. He said the issue of homelessness will never go away.

But he said a structure has to be in place to rapidly respond to people in need.

"Homelessness is going to be an issue we constantly have to deal with," Sununu said.