Three homeless men granted temporary permission to camp on state land in Concord
A judge has ruled that three homeless men can continue camping on state land in Concord while their attorney prepares a lawsuit over their right to stay there.
The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union is suing the state over evictions from state land, arguing that the homeless have nowhere else to live. At a hearing this week, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler gave attorney Barbara Keshen additional time to file her legal arguments.
The state cannot evict Keshen’s clients or remove their belongings from state property before the next court hearing, Smukler wrote in a ruling issued Tuesday.
But the ruling is not a judgment of the lawsuit’s overall “likelihood of success,” Smukler wrote. Rather, his decision is based on Keshen’s argument that the homeless men could suffer harm if evicted from the camps, and the state’s acknowledgement that no immediate harm would come from allowing them to camp until the next hearing.
The state may, however, keep its “no camping” and “no trespassing” signs, and continue to inform campers that they could be subject to eviction.
State officials will comply with the order and “maintain the status quo,” said Senior Assistant Attorney General Mary Ann Dempsey. At a court hearing Monday, she had asked for an order allowing the state to evict campers.
Dempsey said yesterday that she’s still confident that camping isn’t permitted on all state land. State agencies posted “no trespassing” or “no camping” signs this spring on properties behind the Everett Arena and off Hazen Drive, Loudon Road and Stickney Avenue.
“There isn’t a right to camp on the land,” Dempsey said. “But the court has allowed the petitioners a chance to submit additional legal arguments, and we’re fine with addressing those once they’ve been presented.”
Keshen said she’s glad the court has granted all of her initial requests. But she remains worried about Concord’s homeless residents, who could lose access to the land where they’ve camped for many years. Also this spring, the Concord police began clearing homeless camps on private property between Storrs Street and South Commercial Street. Campers who received more than one police warning were charged with criminal trespassing.
“In general, there’s a great concern about where people are going to go because the spots that they have traditionally camped in have been closed down to them,” Keshen said.
Keshen has until next Thursday to file her complaint, which she has said will address the constitutional issues surrounding homelessness.