Concord police chief: Issues with homelessness still a problem
A homeless camp off Fort Eddy Road in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, August 7, 2013.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
An evidence marker left by police on the blood-stained flooring of a tent at a homeless camp off Fort Eddy Road in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, August 7, 2013.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
After being evicted from camps on state and private land, members of Concord’s homeless population have found new places to camp. One new camp, off Fort Eddy Road along the Merrimack River, became the scene of a police investigation Tuesday night after a homeless man was transported to the hospital with serious head injuries.
The police said 52-year-old Paul Tinkham was in serious but stable condition yesterday, and the incident remains under investigation. While the state police haven’t released details about the incident, Concord’s police chief acknowledged yesterday that moving homeless camps hasn’t solved the issues surrounding homelessness. The Concord police cleared camps this spring on private land behind Stickney Avenue. And last week, state officials completed their cleanup of homeless camps on four state properties in the city.
“In my opinion, both of those examples weren’t victories of we’ve fixed anything,” said Concord police Chief John Duval. “And that’s the tragedy, I think, of this story. . . . There are people (who), for whatever reason, are either incapable or unable to position themselves where they have the best chance of personal survival and a meaningful existence.”
No matter where people camp, Duval said, the issue of homelessness can’t be solved without collaboration between local government and agencies that work with housing, mental health and substance abuse problems. Duval couldn’t comment on the incident off Fort Eddy Road this week because it’s a state police investigation. Both the Concord police and the state police responded to the incident Tuesday night.
State police Lt. Greg Ferry said the police haven’t determined whether Tinkham’s injuries were caused by an accident or a criminal act. The police will conduct more interviews in the coming days, and will speak with Tinkham as he recovers.
The homeless camp where Tinkham lived, under an Interstate 393 bridge across the Merrimack River, was still marked with police tape and blood yesterday afternoon. Three men at the camp, who said they were present when Tinkham was hurt, declined to give their names and said they’ve refused to share information with the police. They first told a reporter that Tinkham slipped on some rocks next to the river, but then indicated he had been beaten. The men said they’d lived off South Commercial Street behind the Friendly Kitchen until the police told them to leave the private property this spring. They’ve camped off Fort Eddy Road since.
The camp is on state property, but the property is not posted with “no camping” signs. State officials have worked this year to clear homeless camps on four state properties: behind the Everett Arena; off Loudon Road on Gully Hill; along Stickney Avenue; and off Hazen Drive. Efforts to clear those camps had been delayed when the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union sued the state on behalf of three homeless men. A judge ruled in July that there isn’t a right to camp on public property without permission.
State officials then met with the police and representatives from the state Department of Health and Human Services and worked to notify the campers that they must leave, said Michael Connor of the state Department of Administrative Services. His agency owns some of the properties; the state Department of Transportation owns the rest of the posted land.
The camps were clear by last week, Connor said, when state officials removed remaining trash, debris and abandoned belongings.
“It was one of the best cooperative efforts I’ve ever taken part in,” Connor said.
Ferry and Connor said yesterday that officials are still working to determine which state agency owns the land off Fort Eddy Road. Connor said the land directly underneath the I-393 overpass belongs to the Department of Transportation, and could also be posted “no camping” if the agency chooses to take that course.
Several homeless people eating lunch at the Friendly Kitchen yesterday declined to tell a reporter where they are camping, expressing a fear that their camps would be cleared if they were discovered.
Others said they’ve moved farther from downtown. One couple who became homeless a month ago said they’ve set up a camp off Garvins Falls Road. It takes them two hours to walk to downtown every morning.
“Where else are we supposed to go?” asked one man, who lived behind Stickney Avenue in an area known as “the tubes” until this spring. He declined to say where he’s now camping.
The Concord police cleared privately owned land this spring along Stickney Avenue, between Storrs Street and I-393, by asking campers to leave and charging them with trespassing. The police issued 19 court summonses for trespassing and alcohol violations on the property over two days in May.
City and state officials began to talk of clearing the properties after a series of incidents last year, including the disappearance of a man whose body was later found nearby in the Merrimack River, the drowning of another homeless man who was swimming in the river and an ax attack on a homeless man by another man at the camp. Duval said the police will continue to respond to specific situations like those, and the incident Tuesday night. His concerns aren’t new, and they aren’t going away.
“Where people are establishing their residency outdoors – whether it’s on private property or state land – the safety concerns and issues remain, and in my opinion, will not be mitigated until other issues have been worked through and solutions found,” Duval said. “I’ve been talking about complex social problems that have existed long before these stories got on the front burner, if you will, of people’s mind and awareness. But certainly in the last several months and year there have been many incidents where safety is a concern.”