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Officials hope to keep Everett Arena homeless camp empty come spring

A homeless camp that drew heightened police attention this summer due to a string of serious incidents is now empty.

And while officials say it’s typical for the community behind the Everett Arena to disperse when the weather turns cold, those officials also say they’re exploring new options to ensure the camp doesn’t return come spring.

Most immediately, the land will likely be posted this month, according to Linda Hodgdon, commissioner of the state Department of Administrative Services, which owns the property.

Concord police Chief John Duval said that would allow his officers to more easily enforce laws there in the future.

“Right now . . . for us to say ‘You need to leave,’ we need someone to say ‘They shouldn’t be there,’ ” he said. “And that would be the state.”

But even with the state’s permission to arrest trespassers, Duval noted that “you can’t arrest your way out of a problem like this.”

“The next step is to not say ‘The winter’s been taken care of,’ but by late winter, very early spring, keep it on the front burner with a very consistent strategy,” Duval said.

Duval is one of a group of law enforcement officials and homeless community advocates who met last fall to discuss the Everett Arena camp and how it should be addressed before the winter. Duval said the pre-winter effort was more “deliberate” than any in the past and was spurred by several incidents including:

∎ the March disappearance of a 20-year-old Pembroke man who had been living at the camp. His body was recovered from the river the next month.

∎ the July drowning of a homeless man who was swimming in the river with a friend.

∎ and the August ax attack on a man at the camp by another who was allegedly upset over text messages sent to a woman.

Duval said the group set a loose deadline of Dec. 15, coinciding with the opening of the cold weather shelters, to clear out the tents. But in the end officers didn’t have to force anyone from the property, he said.

Marcia Sprague, director of the Concord Homeless Resource Center, said about 20 to 30 people were living at the camp in early fall. With the help of people from the resource center, many found other living arrangements, such as boarding houses, in November, Sprague said.

She said three or four individuals were still there around the Dec. 15 deadline, and those people moved into the cold weather shelters.

“The people down there are really good people,” Sprague said. “Half of them have jobs, but they’re not making enough to get an apartment. There are some students down there. So they’re people that don’t want to get in trouble with the law. So they did what they had to do.”

Sprague said because most people living at the camp try to avoid run-ins with law enforcement, posting the property will be a huge deterrent.

But that won’t keep people from going to other homeless camps once the winter shelters close, Duval said.

Sprague said she visits the cold weather shelter weekly in hopes of setting up permanent housing for the residents.

Duval said he plans to keep the camp a priority even though it appears to temporarily no longer be an issue. He said posting the property is one step, but he noted the need for other preventative measures.

“I could arrest everybody and the following week the problem will not be eradicated,” he said. “There are other contributing factors that play into this. And some of them are complex.”

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or
tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @tricia_nadolny.)

Why are students homeless? If you have a job and cannot afford an apt, I thought you could get temporary housing assistance based on your income.

It's easy keeping them out of there in the winter. The smart ones go to Florida. It should be fun though, come the spring.

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