Concord police press charges to clear homeless camps
As part of an ongoing effort to clear the homeless camps on private property behind Stickney Avenue, the police are now charging individuals with trespassing.
The police issued 18 court summonses for trespassing and alcohol violations in that area Sunday, police Chief John Duval said. One person was charged yesterday, as officers continued asking campers to leave.
“Let’s just say this has been a long process of working with everybody, including those affected,” Duval said. “We’re trying to assist everybody involved with the best resolution possible.”
The effort began in March, when emergency shelters closed for the season. Responding to complaints from property owners, the police began asking people to leave their camps along the railroad tracks, between the Holiday Inn on North Main Street and the Friendly Kitchen on South Commercial Street.
Duval said officers spent weeks identifying and speaking with people camping in those areas. No one was charged without first receiving a warning. To add “less of a burden on an already difficult situation,” Duval said, the police are not making arrests.
“We’re trying to be reasonable in this community policing initiative to give them time to make their arrangements,” he said.
Duval said it’s unclear how many people were camping in the area. The number of people charged “only reflects people that have previously been warned and then didn’t heed the warning,” he said.
Most individuals have been cooperative, Duval said, but the police are not done clearing the area. Yesterday, some campers received their first warning from the police.
Meanwhile, several state properties that were posted for trespassing in March were re-posted Friday. Beginning next Tuesday, the state will forbid camping instead of trespassing, said Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services.
The switch to “no camping” notices was made because “there’s been some discussion that it’s public property and as public property people may have a right to walk across that,” Connor said.
Connor said those properties include the land behind Everett Arena, property along Hazen Drive, Gully Hill behind Loudon Road and property along Stickney Avenue. The Concord police are only working to clear private property; the state police are responsible for state property.
Barbara Keshen, an attorney for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, expressed concern about the posted land in a letter to the Department of Administrative Services last month.
“Homeless people are members of the public at large and they have a constitutionally protected liberty interest to be in parks or on other city or state lands of their choosing that are open to the public generally,” she wrote.
Keshen asked the Department of Administrative Services to hold a hearing to give homeless individuals “an opportunity to be heard to challenge this restriction.” She said she did not receive a response to her letter.
Frank Sobol, one of the men named in Keshen’s letter, said yesterday that he doesn’t understand why camping has been forbidden on the state land.
“It seems to be that it’s okay until they find out who’s using it, and that they don’t like us being the poor and homeless,” he said.
While Keshen said her concerns have not changed, she’s not sure what other action she could take. The six homeless men named in her letter – and many others – don’t know where to go, she said.
“And if now they can’t camp in privately owned property, then the only place left for them to camp is publicly owned property,” Keshen said. “And if that’s going to be posted and people are going to be refused habitation on public land, then what’s left? It’s an endless circle of frustration and heartbreak.”
Duval said he’s also concerned about where people will camp once moved off state and private property.
“You know, I wish I had better answers regarding ‘what now?’ ” Duval said. “My staff is responding to the laws that may be broken. But it doesn’t necessarily remedy their situation.”
Some homeless camps had also become a public safety concern, Duval said. The homeless camp on state land behind the Everett Arena was cleared 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.
“I said from the beginning that we don’t go looking for situations where people are homeless to move them along,” he said. “It’s proliferated, and they’ve congregated in such a way that, for whatever reason, it’s brought criminal behaviors . . . in certain pockets of the greater downtown area.”