The cities of Rochester, Dover and Somersworth are considering a new way to provide temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness during the coldest parts of winter.
Rochester was the first of the Tri-Cities to adopt a new permit on the issue. It lets private properties become emergency shelters during cold weather for up to 48 hours, so long as the building that wants to house people meets fire protection requirements.
Now, Somersworth mayor Dana Hilliard says he'll tell his city council to fast-track some kind of similar proposal.
"The reality is that there are people living in the woods, people living in tents or other shelters that are not offering them safety from the harsh elements,” he says. “So we need to do our part of a caring community – and ultimately of government – of keeping its citizens safe."
Hilliard says the idea of temporary shelters is a necessary stopgap, but not a permanent fix to the cities' housing and homelessness problems.
"We are going to have to come up with a long-term solution for addressing this, which will ultimately, I think, lead towards building a permanent-type shelter for individuals within the Tri-City area,” he says.
That shelter, which a Tri-City council on homelessness has identified as a future priority, could serve just the three communities or all of Strafford County.
In Dover, city manager Michael Joyal says their emergency management rules already allow for the creation of temporary shelters, but that they’ll likely take steps to affirm their commitment to Rochester’s idea.
Joyal also says anyone at risk from the cold or other problems should take advantage of the city's public welfare program.=
Activists recently placed symbolic body bags on the steps of Dover City Hall, criticizing what they see as a lack of local action to prevent homelessness.