It’s a desperate scene outside the Hillsborough County Superior Courthouse, with November weather not helping.
Approximately two dozen tents are clustered between the sidewalk and edge of the courthouse, a pop-up homeless encampment just a block from Manchester’s main commercial street. As rain falls, people who have called this space a temporary home since the summer are making plans to move on.
(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)
“I was down next to the river before they chased us out,” explains a man in a gray hoodie who declined to give his name. “The cops don’t like us down next to the railroad tracks, so that’s why we came up here. But too many people came, so they kicked us out.”
On November 6, signs went up giving the camp’s inhabitants a 10-day warning. On the 16th, everybody has to clear out, on orders from the state.
“They put up an eviction sign saying that they were gonna kick us out, whatever property is left here they are going to destroy. That’s about it. They gave us no alternative, or where to go, or anything else to do,” said the man in gray. “So now we are just going to do what we gotta do.”
Manchester has a city ordinance and curfews in place that prevent people from staying overnight in most parks. The courthouse, however, is technically state property, where those rules don’t apply.
Camping is still prohibited, per state statute, but a lack of available beds at nearby homeless shelters, along with guidance from the CDC that recommends against breaking up homeless encampments during the pandemic, has led to a weeks of hand wringing, and increasingly pointed criticism from various public officials about how to remove the encampment.
“I can understand the aggravation and frustration of them looking out their windows and seeing, it looks like a trash dump,” said a man named John, who has camped here for the past month. “I can understand that. But people still have to have a place to live, or at least rest their head.”
The police are a steady presence on site, and there have been nuisance crimes: a few broken windows, public urination, vandalism, but nothing more serious has been reported.
Outreach workers are on the ground regularly, and some people have been moved into shelter beds, though others then take their place at the camp.
“I’m hoping not to be here too long, I’m not one for this,” said John. “I’ll get back on my feet. I’ll get a job, I’ll get a place. It’s just a work in progress.”
As he is speaking, a car pulls up and pops its trunk. A woman gets out and announces she has clean blankets for anyone who needs one.
“We just had some blankets, and instead of chucking them, we washed them. Thought I'd bring them down here,” explains Nickie Lamere of Hooksett.
“People think they’re, like, lazy. Nobody wants to be in this situation. I think you gotta stop and put yourself in other peoples’ shoes once in a while.”
Good samaritans are a regular feature of the encampment, according to John, and a soup kitchen operates nearby.
A man named Keith is standing at the edge of the camp, smoking a cigarette and carrying a pint of strawberries.
“I’ve been here for like two months, I’ve been homeless for like a year and a half.
It’s my own addiction problem,” Keith says. “It is what it is.”
Keith guesses that 90% of the people in this encampment are active drug users, but there’s no way to confirm that. Untreated mental illness is also prevalent.
Keith says he doesn’t have any interest in a shelter right now, even if a bed were available. He says they're too restrictive. On Tuesday, a cleaning crew hired by the state will arrive at 9 a.m. to clear the area.
Keith will clear out too. He’s not sure yet where he’s going to go.
“Sometimes it’s not that bad out here,” he says. “Could be worse.”