Homeless protest evictions from Concord campsites
Standing on a parked car, 'Bic,' who asked that his real name not be used, stands holding a sign as people gathered in front of the State House in Concord on Tuesday afternoon, May 14, 2013, to rally against the dismantling of homeless camps and the lack of housing options for homeless people. 'Bic' said he is under the age of 21 and this is the second time he has been homeless. Later in the rally, a man driving a green jeep on Main Street yelled obscenities at the group about getting a job. "People legitimately don't understand what it's like to be in this situation," he said.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Steve Mann and his fianc Leona Hunt, center, listen to speakers in front of the State House on Tuesday afternoon, May 14, 2013, during a rally against the dismantling of the homeless camps and a lack of housing options for homeless people. Mann has been homeless since August, he said. "We're stuck between a rock and a hard place," Mann said. When he moved to Concord in 1985, Mann said he owned a condo and is now living out of his car.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
As camps on private property and state land in Concord are cleared for trespassing, Concord’s homeless population and their advocates have one question.
“Where are they supposed to live?”
Marcia Sprague, director of the Concord Homeless Resource Center, asked that question at a rally in front of the State House yesterday afternoon. More than 60 people attended to hold signs, raise awareness and speak about their experiences.
“We cannot take away a campground without offering an alternative,” said Maggie Fogarty, a board member of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness.
Fogarty and others said the homeless population has been left without an alternative this spring, as the police clear camps on private property and the state forbids camping on its land around Concord.
Many homeless individuals and advocates held signs yesterday: “Stop illegalizing homelessness,” “We have a right to a home,” “Out of sight out of mind? Don’t look the other way.”
Sprague said she understands that the Concord police are enforcing the rights of private property owners, and that state officials chose to clear homeless camps on their property after a number of incidents last year. But that doesn’t change the plight of people living on that land.
“The big picture is everyone has to be off at the same time,” she said.
Jonathan Hopkins said he’s camping on state land off Loudon Road, but it was recently posted with “no camping” signs. He said he plans to stay there because he has nowhere else to go.
“I shall keep out of sight,” he said.
Wendell Ford, who is homeless, said yesterday that it’s difficult to find new camps, and available options are far from the Friendly Kitchen and other resources.
Sean Lambert, a 20-year-old who stayed at the camp behind Everett Arena last summer, asked for an end to stereotypes about the homeless. Lambert said he doesn’t drink or do drugs and he has a job, but he still needs somewhere to stay. He stressed that incidents involving relatively few people caused state officials to clear camps.
“People simply don’t understand,” he said.
Action to clear homeless camps began last year. The police said the camp on state land behind Everett Arena became a serious safety concern after a number of incidents, 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 one man by another man at the camp.
As state land was posted for trespassing this spring, private property owners asked the Concord police to clear campers from their land between Stickney Avenue and North Main Street. The police began by giving campers notice to leave and then began pressing charges. On a single Sunday, the police issued 18 court summonses for alcohol and trespassing violations.
Barbara Keshen, an attorney for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, spoke yesterday to explain the lawsuit she filed against the state on behalf of three homeless men. She encouraged yesterday’s crowd to attend a court hearing Monday.
“People deserve to be treated with respect, decency and humanity,” Keshen said. “People deserve a place where they can feel safe and they can feel secure and they can live in peace, and that’s what we’re trying to do, is to go into court and to see if the court will listen to the voice of the people.”
The lawsuit is one hope to reverse the evictions from state property, and advocates said their other option was raising awareness at yesterday’s rally.
Fogarty said the idea for the rally came from a Concord Coalition to End Homelessness board meeting Friday. It grew support Monday when they gathered homeless individuals and religious leaders at the Friendly Kitchen.
The protest lasted for about an hour, and few passing pedestrians paused to listen. Some motorists shouted obscenities or honked as they passed on Main Street.
“The reasons people become homeless are myriad, the solutions are complex,” said Ellen Fries, one of the coalition’s board members. “But today, our message is simple: Until we have other solutions, please allow those who are without other options an appropriate place to camp where they will not be harassed as long as they are peaceful and law-abiding.”
(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
email@example.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)