Less than a day after announcing it had found a suitable location for an emergency homeless shelter, the city of Manchester now says a private developer purchased the building overnight. City officials claim the buyer, local real estate developer Ben Gamache, didn’t want the space to be used as a shelter.
In an email exchange Wednesday afternoon, Gamache, who owns buildings adjacent to the one eyed for a homeless shelter, said he had been interested in the property for a while and moved to buy it when, he said, he found it was on the market. That property, however, located on Pearl Street, does not appear to have been listed for sale, though it was listed for lease. The building’s most recent owner did not return requests for comment for this story.
The move complicates the city’s recent efforts to find housing for homeless residents as winter approaches.
Earlier this week, city officials appeared to have found a temporary solution to the problem that called for using the city-owned JFK Memorial Coliseum as an emergency winter shelter. But it wasn’t a preferred option, as it would have meant ending public use of the skating rink through the end of March. During Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, Mayor Joyce Craig announced the city had identified a new location: a commercial building on Pearl Street that could house up to 50 people. The city was prepared to contract with Families in Transition, a local service provider, to manage an emergency shelter on the site. The organization says it’s been at or near capacity in recent weeks, forced to turn away some clients.
City and state officials have been feuding for weeks over what to do with Manchester’s homeless population as winter approaches and many local shelters have limited beds due to social distancing requirements from the coronavirus. State police last week evicted several dozen people who had taken up residence in tents on the grounds of the Hillsborough County Superior Courthouse downtown. Local service providers have sought to find housing options for those evicted from the encampment, but many homeless people said they did not feel safe going to shelters.
Mayor Craig has accused state officials of moving hastily to break up the camp without providing a safety net for those affected. State officials said local leaders, including the mayor and fire department, had failed to take up offers for help from the state.
Gamache did not answer specific questions on whether he had purchased the Pearl Street building with the intent of preventing it from being used to house the homeless, as the city alleges. But city officials now say his purchase of that building means they have to go back to square one.
A statement released Wednesday from the mayor’s office, Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan and Families in Transition President Maria Devlin read, in part, “We are appalled this happened the day before Thanksgiving, and at a time when people in our community are suffering and are in desperate need of emergency shelter.”