Manchester officials and the state are once again sparring over how to fund homelessness response efforts in the city.
Homeless encampments in Manchester have grown dramatically during the pandemic, as shelters have closed or reduced occupancy to meet COVID-19 guidelines. The city estimates about 350 people are living in tents or vacant buildings. Many have severe challenges with substance use disorder and mental health.
"This is probably the biggest emergency we're dealing with in this community right now,” said Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan.
The Manchester Fire Department is working with social service providers to send response units into the camps on a daily basis to connect them with treatment, services, and if possible, a shelter bed.
The initiative has been funded with a mix of state money and federal coronavirus relief money known as Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF). The state Department of Justice recently denied Manchester's grant request for more money to continue its work past March, saying "the purpose of the grant is for 'law enforcement and other first responders to prevent, prepare for and respond' to COVID-10, and that Manchester had already received close to 30 percent of the state's CESF.
Mayor Joyce Craig and Chief Dan Goonan are asking the state to reconsider, but Gov. Chris Sununu told reporters on Thursday that there are other cities with more immediate COVID-related needs.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include part of the letter from the NH DOJ to Manchester officials denying the grant request.