Alderman: Families in Transition should help homeless outside their gates

Dec. 14—A key Manchester alderman said he thinks Families in Transition should do more to help the people living in tents next to the New Horizons homeless shelter.

Alderman Pat Long, whose Ward 3 includes the downtown, said he voiced his feelings to Families in Transition officials at a recent meeting, which included Mayor Joyce Craig and several other city officials.

"I think New Horizons should accommodate them however they can," Long said. But he said FiT won't feed the people or let them use the bathroom.

"That's kind of strange because they have the homeless niche in the city," he said.

A spokesman for Craig did not return two emails seeking comment for this article.

An official with Families in Transition said the organization's resources are tapped out. The shelter is full most nights, and some nights FiT has only two people — half the optimal number — on staff to oversee the 138 people sleeping inside the shelter.

"It's not just about the funding. At this point, we need to find other solutions. Our facility is maxed out," said Stephanie Savard, chief of external relations for FiT.

The tents started going up on the sidewalk after aldermen this fall banned shopping carts, multiple bicycles and tarps from city parks. Officials have said the sidewalk tents are legal as long as pedestrians have enough space to pass.

Most tents are pitched outside a fenced-in courtyard of about a quarter acre, an area that used to hold a greenhouse.

"It's not being used," said Long, who favors use of the courtyard by those outside the fence. "At the very least, they should have a couple Porta Potties in there so they can use the bathroom," he said.

Savard said FiT does not believe it is appropriate to have a homeless encampment on shelter property.

"We just don't have the staff capacity to manage an encampment," she said.

Savard said the sidewalk camps already put a strain on the shelter. Campers knock on the door seeking help, which requires the attention from the staff. Residents in wheelchairs find it difficult to pass, propane tanks create a fire risk, trash accumulates and fecal matter creates a health hazard.

She said the fence around the courtyard, which campers often use to hang wet clothes, bedding and other material, is at risk for damage.

"We have to set some limits, as difficult as they are," she said.

Long said the city does not provide money to FiT for operation of its homeless shelter. It did provide $80,000 for transitional housing, which he said he will "take a look at" during budget deliberations next year.

He said most of the money for the shelter operation comes from the state. Long, also a state representative, said he doesn't expect the state will pressure FiT to do more to address the homeless outside their gates.

One of the sidewalk campers, who identified himself as Sweeney Todd, said he wouldn't mind camping in the courtyard. It would provide some distance from people who shout and take photographs as they drive by.

But others are supportive. For example, two people appeared with blankets and warm clothes in a 15-minute period when a Union Leader reporter and photographer visited.

"If they allowed (courtyard camping), it wouldn't be a bad thing," Todd said.

But a man who gave his name as Tyler said it would be a terrible idea.

Tyler, 27, has a bed in the shelter, which is full most nights. He said the courtyard would quickly fill up and likely be overrun.

Tyler said it's difficult to find a bathroom when you live on the street. Businesses will only let a person use a bathroom if they buy something. Human excrement is present in a nearby alley, Tyler said.

"It's disgusting," he said.

mhayward@unionleader.com