As activists, residents and police met at a homeless encampment known as The Bucket in Manchester this week, most residents left by Tuesday as the city brought in a cleaning crew to clear out the camp. On Monday, city officials dropped off a dumpster and totes for people to throw out or stow their things. Residents vacated after they said they didn't want to be forced into a shelter.
All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Manchester’s first director of homeless initiatives, Schonna Green, about the ongoing situation and the city’s efforts to work with the houseless community to find long term solutions. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Peter Biello: This is All Things Considered on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. Schonna Green is Manchester's first director of homeless initiatives. Yesterday, she met with people at The Bucket to hear what they had to say. She's on the line with me now. Schonna Green, thank you very much for speaking with me.
Schonna Green: Sure.
Peter Biello: So, can you tell me why this is happening now? Who made the decision to clear out this camp and why?
Schonna Green: It's city property, and they clearly have in place a no camping on city property ordinance. And because of that, the encampment had to be cleared. Also, for safety reasons. Once an encampment gets too big and there are safety reasons and health reasons or sanitation reasons, [they’re] going to be closed. Now, every time an encampment is closed we do have to ensure that there are adequate, clean, safe beds for the campers to go. And we did that.
Peter Biello:You made offers, though some of these folks weren't interested. I was wondering what you attempted to do to persuade them to take some of these options that the city was offering.
Schonna Green: OK. We have an outreach team that's made up of clinical professionals that interact with the campers daily, and they have been working with them throughout the whole entire process. I actually went and strongly encouraged all the social service providers that we have here, strongly encouraged them to come in so that we can better assess their needs and help them as it relates to housing instability. But unfortunately, sometimes, they still have the right to say no to our services.
Peter Biello: I mean, you've said in the past that your goal is to help those experiencing homelessness find housing, and part of that is building more housing. Do you think the city is doing enough to make that happen?
Schonna Green: Oh, definitely. I think it's awesome that our city is knowledgeable. They're reaching out for the help and they understand that we need to do affordable housing here. They just adopted bringing in an affordable housing trust. An affordable housing trust is an opportunity for them to create a source of revenue in which those dollars would be dedicated to housing initiatives. Again, housing initiatives for all, and looking at the gaps that we may be trying to provide. They're looking at putting out RFPs [requests for proposals] and encouraging for-profit and nonprofit developers to come to the table and build additional housing, again, for the population here. And I think that's critical and I think it's a great start. And I think our city is doing a lot in providing support to social service programs and for housing programs to address this need.
Peter Biello: So what happens to those folks who, as you mentioned, chose not to avail themselves of the shelters that you offered and may simply move on to another place, to camp, possibly on city property? Is there a strategy to deal with this in a sustainable way so people aren't simply forced to a new location, but their needs -- mental health or whatever health -- needs they have [are met?]
Schonna Green: In my mind, the biggest elephant in the room is that they have the ability to say, no, they don't want our services and you cannot criminalize them because they don't want to participate in the services that we have to render. And that's very important that we all understand that. So as of right now, we're looking at many different avenues in which we can strongly encourage that they allow us to help them and indirectly, that will help the whole entire community if we can empower one person at a time, that's what we're going to have to do here.
Peter Biello: So, in the coming month or so, what's going to be your primary focus when it comes to helping those who are currently without homes?
Schonna Green: Well, we're doing things right now. I don't want you to think that the city is not. We are doing plenty of things. We have three or four organizations that we're working with right now to create additional affordable housing with support services for chronically homeless individuals. It's not out in the public yet, but they're working. Once a week they're in here working. They're putting together all of their information so that they, too, can compete for funding and support to bring this capacity to our city. We also just started, I believe they just approved, an affordable housing trust and that's a very important tool for any city to have because it allows for them to have long term investments in their housing infrastructure and our needs. That's taking place. As it relates to the continuum of care that we have here, that's represented by several of the nonprofit organizations. They are still working every single day in trying to build capacity. And recently we've seen that the FiT [Families in Transition] organization just secured funding from the city to bring forth 11 units of permanent supportive housing for the citizens of Manchester. And then we just witnessed Waypoint do the same thing in bringing forth, hopefully very soon, additional beds for young adults that are experiencing homelessness, as well as three units of permanent housing for young adults that are experiencing homelessness. I think the biggest thing that we need to look at here, Peter, is we need to ensure that everybody understands that housing matters for all people, regardless of your shortfalls. And I think if we take it on as a community, as a village, we're going to be way better off in the processes that we put together, because that way we're doing it as a team, we're doing it at the city and we're doing it for our city.
Peter Biello: Well, Schonna, I hope we can keep in touch as the story continues. Really appreciate your time.
Schonna Green: Sure thing. Thanks so much. Have a wonderful day.
Peter Biello: You, too.