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Manchester business owners ask city for training to deal with unhoused people

 Despite Manchester's ongoing homeless initiatives, many business owners are raising concerns about how they can deal with this population.
Gaby Lozada
Despite Manchester's ongoing homeless initiatives, many business owners are raising concerns about how they can deal with this population.

It has been a year since the city of Manchester named its first director of homeless initiatives. Residents say the situation has improved, but now they are asking the police department for additional help.

New Hampshire’s housing market is pricing many people out of their homes with rising rents and fierce competition for limited places to live. According to the NH Coalition to End Homelessness annual report, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the unsheltered population in the state. According to the report, Manchester recorded 1,714 homeless individuals in 2021.

Manchester hired Schonna Green in 2021 as its first director of homeless initiatives. She says her department has been working on placing people in shelters by visiting reported encampments every week and deciding if there is a health or safety issue. If there is one, they promptly remove them from the street.

“But if they keep their numbers to one or two and they are not disturbing, we will not bother them. We don’t want to do the sweeps,” Green said.

Many business owners raised their concerns at a meeting hosted Monday by city officials. They said they are concerned about their safety, especially in the morning when they open.

Leslie Boswak, who owns a local boutique, was one of several business owners who intervened and asked for more guidance on compassionate de-escalation techniques.

“We need a workshop on how to deal with some of the situations we encounter, whether we have a homeless person who won’t leave, somebody who is high and being a real problem to our business, or someone who is suffering from mental illness,” Boswak said.

According to some owners, downtown is experiencing increased incidents of unsheltered people. Alex Horton is the owner of Café La Reine. She has been doing business in Manchester for 10 years. She said, “people sleeping in doorways and knocking signs over are making people uncomfortable coming downtown.”

Horton says people come into her business asking for money and would not leave. “It is something that happens pretty often,” she said. She is unsure if it is legal to ask someone to leave their property; that is why she would like to learn in a workshop about the legalities of the situation.

Manchester Police Chief Allen D. Aldenberg said his team would develop a safety course for business owners.

“They will also learn what the police department can and can't do with someone on their property,” said Aldenberg.

Green said it will take the whole community to treat the problem of homelessness. She added that they will reevaluate the city’s situation in the next month based on what she heard on Monday.

In the meantime, business owners like Horton hope downtown keeps its path to revitalization and attracts more people to it.

“I just love this city and want to see it succeed and become a great place to live, work and raise a family. We're moving in the right direction. I just think that's going to take some time,” Horton said.

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.

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