My Turn: ‘Invisible’ people are suddenly too visible for Concord
Re “Concord police press charges to clear homeless camps” (Monitor front page, May 7):
It turns out that those who are homeless in Concord, who feel invisible as people, are actually too visible.
Recently, two events in Concord happened simultaneously. First, the state posted a public notice of “No Camping” on state property, which included the land behind Everett Arena, Gully Hill, Hazen Drive and Stickney Avenue. Campers were given one week’s notice to vacate the property by May 14. One homeless person, hidden in the woods on state land for three years, lived there quiet and unnoticed. The land had never been posted until now.
Second, the Concord police responded to private landowners by giving violation notices to people camping on private land. The homeless people were given 24 hours’ notice to vacate the property. Many were told they could not return to claim their belongings. One person had been living near the railroad tracks south of the stores on Fort Eddy Road for four years. His place was immaculate: no papers or trash, just a raked and tidy surrounding. He didn’t have a lot of personal belongings – small gifts, a mattress – but he said it was his home. How many people living in an apartment or home would be able to move within 24 hours? Even people who are evicted are given more notice.
Where are people who are homeless supposed to go if they can’t be on state or private land? They are being told to leave but not given alternatives of where to go. The posted notice encourages campers to call 2-1-1. Many homeless feel defeated. They feel as soon as they’ve found another camp, a sign will be posted and they’ll have to move again. They’re using the term “selective enforcement.”
Ultimately, the long-term solution is to find housing for each homeless person, and in order to be housed a person needs to be employed. As far as short-term solutions to the camping issue, our homeless citizens need land. If state and private property are off limits, maybe city property is the next choice. Perhaps there are private landowners who would be willing to take a few campers onto their land.
The people who are homeless have ideas for solutions. They want to work so they can afford housing. What about a job fair for the homeless? The homeless community has a large skill bank. The New Hampshire Employment Security administers the Federal Bonding, Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and Return to Work programs, all designed to create a win-win environment for employers and at-risk people.
I believe Concord is capable of responding to the challenges of homelessness in dignifying, compassionate and effective ways. Would Concord-area businesses be willing to hire someone who is homeless through these programs to get them back on their feet?
The visibility of the homeless has created a situation where the community would prefer them to be invisible. Out of sight, out of mind. The people who are homeless are tired of being invisible, powerless, and not having a voice. They want to work. They want to be heard. They want to be part of the solution.
(Marcia Sprague is director of the Concord Homeless Resource Center. Her column was written in collaboration with Frank Sobol and Vincent Coppola, who are homeless.)