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Judge Clears Way for Manchester Homeless Sweep

Backed into a corner by a steady stream of negative press over the city’s homeless crisis, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig got the legal go-ahead to clear a downtown homeless encampment.

Craig announced the evictions earlier this month in response to public outcry over the encampments downtown, with the original plan to clear the streets by Tuesday. However, the New Hampshire ACLU filed for a temporary restraining order to block the city from removing the homeless people, halting Craig’s plans.

On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge John Kissinger ruled the city can remove the approximately 50 homeless people from the sidewalk as the encampment represents a danger to the community at large.

Kissinger cited recent deaths, as well as close to 400 calls for police service at the camp, including assaults and drug overdoses.

“Considering the grave risks to public health and safety posed by the ongoing presence of the encampment on public sidewalks in downtown Manchester and the availability of safe alternatives for the people living in the encampment, a temporary restraining order is not justified,” Kissinger wrote.

Craig announced Tuesday the camps will be cleared Wednesday, with space being made available through a partnership with the YMCA to create a women’s shelter at the former Tirrell House. That space is the result of Gov. Chris Sununu’s intervention at the state level.

The city is also opening a temporary warming shelter with cots at the William B. Cashin Activity Center.

“City employees and non-profit partners have been working around the clock to ensure the health and safety of both the individuals experiencing homelessness in Manchester and the community at large,” Craig said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

Craig’s staff did not respond to NHJournal when asked if there would be enough space for all the homeless people being evicted.

Stephen Tower, a staff attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, expressed disappointment in Kissinger’s ruling and cast doubt on Craig’s ability to adequately shelter the people she is evicting.

“Without a plan to immediately relocate and provide a higher level of shelter and services, this eviction will only perpetuate the cycle of chasing these houseless individuals from place to place, alienating and endangering them further,” Tower said.

Gillies Bissonnette, legal director with the New Hampshire ACLU, did not respond to a request for comment.

Also on Tuesday, Sununu sent a pointed response to a recent letter from Craig and seven other Democratic mayors attempting to shift the blame for their communities’ homeless problems onto the state. Craig, Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess, Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, Franklin Mayor Jo Brown, Dover, Mayor Bob Carrier, Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard, Claremont Mayor Dale Girard, and Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer blamed Sununu in their Jan. 3 letter for not doing enough.

“The state has always and will continue to be open to meaningful collaboration on this issue with your cities and other municipalities across the state,” Sununu wrote. “However, politically motivated letters merely muddy the water and make that mutual goal of collaboration more difficult to achieve.”

Sununu’s letter recounted the millions of dollars the state has already put into dealing with homelessness and housing.

• $100 million for InvestNH to make rapid investments in more affordable housing
• $20 million for families in crisis through this winter
• $4 million to build statewide healthcare access for individuals experiencing homelessness
• $4 million for emergency shelter bed capacity and expansion in addition to our typical$2.9 million annual general fund appropriation
• $2.25 million for the landlord incentive program
• $1 million for winter warming shelters

Meanwhile, Sununu has repeatedly noted Craig and the other mayors are sitting on a combined $73 million in unspent federal funding that could be used on homeless shelters and services.

Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur said if Manchester residents want someone to blame, they should look to the other communities around the state, many with Democratic mayors, who have the resources to shelter some of the state’s homeless but are content to see them shunted off to the Queen City.

“Manchester is the dumping ground for the rest of the state,” Lavasseur told NHJournal. “If every community took just two or four people into their towns, the relief they could provide — not only to the city of Manchester but also these homeless persons — would be incredibly powerful. This has to be a state-wide issue dealt with by all towns, counties, and cities in New Hampshire.

“Manchester cannot continue to do this on its own; and provide our property owners and taxpayers the level of comfort, safety, and quality of life they deserve.”

Craig: Send National Guard to Manchester to Battle Homelessness

After years of failed policy initiatives to address homelessness, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and a group of her fellow Democrats want Gov. Chris Sununu to send in the troops.

Literally.

Craig joined seven of her fellow Democratic mayors in a letter asking Sununu to call up the National Guard.

The mayors, including Craig, Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess, Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, Franklin Mayor Jo Brown, Dover Mayor Bob Carrier, Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard, Claremont Mayor Dale Girard, and Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer, blamed the state for the failures in their communities.

“The State of New Hampshire’s systems of care for individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness are not meeting the needs of communities across the state and are contributing to a statewide homelessness crisis,” the mayors wrote. “Inadequate state services for individuals experiencing substance use disorder, mental illness, chronic health conditions, histories of trauma, and incarceration are all substantial factors contributing to homelessness in New Hampshire.”

In addition to requests for more state-funded emergency beds, the mayors want the National Guard to help staff emergency shelters. They also want state-owned property in Manchester opened up to house the homeless, also with the help of the Guard.

Sununu rejected claims the state isn’t spending enough to address homelessness. And he said mayors like Craig are failing to use federal resources or effectively manage the problem.

“The tone and misleading content contained in the mayors’ letter is disappointing considering the team approach that is so important on an issue as critical as this. The state has made unprecedented investments to address this issue and continues to identify additional pathways working through the Continuum of Care model,” Sununu said in a statement.

Sununu also said Manchester left a large chunk of its $43 million American Rescue Act funding untouched, money that could have been used for homeless services. At the same time, the city has spent millions on other, less life or death, priorities.

“Meanwhile, the City of Manchester has seemingly used very little of their $43 million from the American Rescue Plan funds to directly address homelessness and, as of Q3 of 2022 (according to their public facing website), they had only expended 22 percent of their funds,” Sununu said. “The unprecedented request to call in the National Guard when federal funding hasn’t been spent by many of the municipalities who signed this letter is impossible. For example, $2 million of American Rescue Plan funding received by Manchester has been dedicated to the city’s branding strategy.”

The state currently supports a Continuum of Care program to allow individual communities to address the homeless crisis while also investing more than $120 million into 42 programs, including housing, emergency assistance for families, and healthcare access for people in crisis.

“Emergency shelters across the state serve more than 700 people (individuals and families) on any given night in New Hampshire,” according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

The deaths of a homeless man and a homeless woman in separate incidents in Manchester during frigid temperatures around the Christmas weekend have increased scrutiny of Craig’s leadership on the issue. Now a national spotlight has been turned on the Queen City’s homelessness issue with the news of the birth and abandonment of a baby in a homeless camp around midnight on December 26.

The mother, Alexandra Eckersley, 26, is the adopted daughter of Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and retired Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley. She was subsequently arrested for allegedly abandoning the newborn in a tent for more than an hour. The newborn boy was taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

Craig’s continued struggle to address homelessness has become a political embarrassment for the mayor, who is widely believed to have an eye on the governor’s office. The city hired Schonna Green as its first-ever director of homeless initiatives in 2021. But she abruptly quit in September.

Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long told Manchester InkLink that Green was set up to fail in her post.

“She was a director of homelessness with no staff, so that was set up to fail from the start. It would be like telling (Police) Chief (Allen) Aldenberg you have no more officers and, oh, keep the city safe,” Long said. “Schonna had a lot of ideas that were stifled someway, somehow – and that was frustrating to her. She called me three weeks ago and said she felt like people were working against her and that they didn’t want her here. I don’t know about that because I’m not in her shoes every day.

“Homelessness is a major initiative in the city of Manchester and in my opinion, you can’t address it with a one-person department,” Long added.

In an interview with WMUR, Craig conceded the homeless problem has gotten worse on her watch.

“Homelessness has been an issue for decades,” Craig said. “Manchester runs health care for the homeless. We’ve had that contract for 40 years. But I would say right now, we are seeing more people living outside than we have before.”

New Hampshire Best New England State for Veterans

New Hampshire is the fifth-best place in America — and the best state in New England — for military retirees. Neighboring Vermont ranks dead last.

That was the finding of a new data analysis by Wallethub that reviewed overall economic opportunity, quality of life, and access to healthcare for veterans. New Hampshire was number five, just ahead of Maine (8), Connecticut (11), and Massachusetts (14). Rhode Island came in a dismal 43. Vermont was at the bottom of the list.

Part of New Hampshire’s appeal to veterans is the low tax environment. Jeremiah Gunderson, director of Veteran and Military Affiliated Services at the University of Texas at Austin, said military retirees want to be where their military pension will not get taxed.

“I find it ridiculous that we make people pay taxes after choosing to sacrifice so much of their lives in service to their nation,” Gunderson said. “As tax-funded employees of the DOD, with taxpayer-funded retirement pay, why are we taking taxes on tax-generated retirement pay?”

Radio host Jack Heath, host of the syndicated show Good Morning New Hampshire, is an outspoken advocate for veterans through his work with Fusion Cell, an organization that helps veterans transition to civilian life. He also does an annual radiothon to raise money to help veterans. This year he brought in $104,000.

Word is spreading about the opportunities in New Hampshire for military retirees, Heath told NHJournal.

“I think there’s increasingly a growing network that veterans leaving the military are hearing about,” Heath said.

New Hampshire has a high percentage of military retirees among its residents despite not being home to a large military base or installation.

Heath said veterans are attracted to the 603 way of life, but also find they can also get help making the switch from military to civilian life.

“I met a lot of veterans. They move here because of family, a lot of them have never been here. They love the state motto, they hear the quality of life is good, the schools are good, and they are surprised by the support,” Heath said.

There is no veterans service hub in the state, so Easter Seals and its Veterans Count team try to be a one-stop shop for military retirees who need help. Stephanie Higgs, clinical director for Easter Seals New Hampshire Military and Veterans Services, said many veterans need services most Granite Staters need, like access to health care, mental health care, and access to affordable housing. Unfortunately, the current labor shortage is impacting the ability of veterans to get help.

“We know some of the services vets struggle with right now are the same things civilians struggle with,” Higgs said. “The demand is greater than the capacity to meet that demand right now.”

Heath said he was surprised when he started working with Fusion Cell to learn about the difficulties many veterans have when they get out of the military. The culture change is enormous, and the military services do not prepare the retirees for life on the outside.

“It’s a culture shock,” Heath said. “I’ve seen some veterans take months or a year to really get adjusted.”

Gunderson said one problem veterans face is that their military specialty rarely translates into employment qualifications in the civilian world.

“As an example, I was a medic in the Army with two deployments to Iraq and considerable experience running a clinic,” he said. “However, when I left the military I was not qualified to do anything other than possibly EMT basic.”

Fusion Cell works to connect veterans with civilian job opportunities, getting them the support they need to succeed in the world.

For the most part, New Hampshire does a good job in offering a variety of services to veterans, both Heath and Higgs said. But while there are many programs or organizations in the state to assist veterans, there is no coordinated platform to connect the overturns to the groups. Heath said the state government should step in and serve as a liaison.

“I bust my butt trying to do it every day, but we really need the state to do a better job,” Heath said.

As for the rest of New Hampshire, Heath wants Granite Staters to be good to the veterans all around.

“Be aware of the veterans are in our community, of the families who sacrificed while they were serving,” he said.