Manchester’s largest homeless shelter, run by New Horizons Families in Transition, is capping the number of people allowed to stay overnight.
The limit comes after a surge in the documented number of homeless people in the city and rising safety concerns at the shelter.
The shelter cap of 138 people is below what the shelter saw this summer. One rainy night in August, they had 163. Even with all their backup mattresses on the floor, COO Stephanie Savard says it was too much.
“I was like: ‘This is frightening,’” Savard recalls. “Walking around trying to get to exit was not safe.”
Savard says additional safety concerns have emerged because of drug use; emergency responders are called regularly to deal with overdoses in and near the shelter, and a spike in meth and spice use has lead to erratic, sometimes violent behavior. With limited emergency shelter in other parts of New Hampshire, many of the residents have no other place to go.
The shelter has hired two police officers and anticipates hiring additional shelter staff, now that the state budget has been finalized. But Savard says they still needed to set a cap before winter so providers across the state can prepare for an influx of people seeking services:
“This is a public health crisis,” she says. “We need to be in a place where all people pay attention so that we all together can come up with solutions.”
One solution that Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and shelter staff have pushed for is to get more help from the state. Staff from the Department of Health and Human Services are now at the shelter to help residents’ access benefits like food stamps and Medicaid.
But shelter resident Albert Edwards says that doesn’t solve his biggest problem: housing. Edwards says he lost his housing after a back injury kept him from working.
“There was no money, bills pile up and pile up and the landlord got sick of it and had to evict me,” he says.
Sitting nearby in a wheelchair, Bryce Randolph says his housing troubles also started with a debilitating injury.
“Life happens and sometimes not for the better,” he says.
Randolph says the shelter is doing its best. But the level of drug use on the sidewalk in front of the shelter is tough for him.
“There are lots of things here I don’t need to see. I’m clean 18 years and someone sat down beside me and shot up seven times,” he says. “Couldn’t find a vein, got up and walked off. I didn’t need to see that.”
Randolph says he’s not worried about the cap that goes into effect on October 1. He says he’s high enough on the waiting list for an affordable housing unit that he’ll be out of the shelter before it gets cold.