City and state officials clear three Concord encampments, leaving dozens without shelter
City and state officials are in the process of clearing out three homeless encampments located in Concord, citing health and safety concerns. But housing rights advocates say some of those issues could have been mitigated earlier if there was a better system of housing and other services for people with nowhere else to go.
Connor Spern, the outreach services coordinator for the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, said about 15 people lived in one of the encampments on state-owned property near the Everett Arena. Two city-owned properties — off of Route 106 and Locke Road — were home to about 15 to 20 people each.
Spern said the encampments were located near accessible public transportation routes that could allow people with mobility challenges to more easily get to support organizations in the city.
Those monitoring the situation said most people have left the encampments, but it’s not clear where they have moved or if they have new housing options. Spern said the people affected have few options for what to do, or where to go next.
“It feels like nobody outside of the organizations working with [these] folks wants to take any kind of responsibility,” Spern said.
Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said the state put out a notice on Dec. 5 instructing people living in the area by the Everett Arena to leave by Dec. 15 – as snowfall hit the city Thursday night and into Friday. She said it’s against state law to have unapproved housing structures on state property that aren’t campgrounds.
“Living on a property that has no infrastructure or sanitation or access to water is a very challenging situation,” Edwards said. “The state has concerns for individuals living on property like that because it’s not set up for people to be there, particularly when the weather falls to low temperatures that we’re at right now.”
Concord City Manager Thomas Aspell Jr. said city officials decided to remove the encampments on their property after receiving complaints from community members and organizations. He said businesses reported stolen items later found nearby the encampments, and the encampments accumulated “unhealthy” levels of human waste, drug paraphernalia and other materials.
Aspell said there was so much waste at the encampment by Locke Road that the City Council on Monday approved $35,000 to be allocated to hire an outside company to clear out the space.
“It's the first time – just because the damage was so extensive and the contamination was so extensive – that we've actually had to go and go to the [City] Council and appropriate new dollars to do something for this,” Aspell said.
Local housing advocates said it’s important to consider the limited options available to the people living at these encampments. Spern said concerns of waste could have been alleviated if the city had provided disposal containers.
“If you want to complain about trash, instead of spending money to do a cleanup, put a dumpster,” she said. “Give people the opportunity… If we're worried about syringes, set up syringe service programs and sharps containers that are easily accessible to people.”
Freeman Toth, Homeless Street Outreach Manager at the Belknap-Merrimack Community Action Program, said it’s not easy for people who are living outside to remove trash that has accumulated over years.
“I don’t think there were any imminent health and safety issues other than those that come along, obviously, with folks living without shelter and access to bathrooms,” Toth said.
Karen Jantzen, the executive director of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, said the encampments are a symptom of a larger problem around securing affordable housing for all residents in Concord.
“We’re scrambling and working hard to get that up and going,” said Jantzen, who oversaw their winter shelter opening on Dec. 1. Various kinds of organizations have to be involved in that work, she said – such as mental health and addiction treatment groups.
“Everybody's working really hard to address all the underlying causes of why this may happen,” she said. “It’s just not happening as quickly as we all would wish it would.”