Fort Eddy homeless encampment evacuated, over 20 transients displaced 

  • Concord Police officers assisted residents in evacuating a homeless encampment near Fort Eddy Plaza on Monday after the landowner called for their removal. Jamie L. Costa/Monitor staff—

  • Concord Police officers assisted residents in evacuating a homeless encampment near Fort Eddy Plaza on Monday after the landowner called for their removal. Campers had recently cut down trees and used them to start fires and build structures. Jamie L. Costa photos /Monitor staff

  • Concord Police officers assisted residents in evacuating a homeless encampment near Fort Eddy Plaza on Monday after the landowner called for their removal. Jamie L. Costa/Monitor staff—

Monitor staff
Published: 11/12/2022 6:01:45 PM

A homeless encampment behind a shopping plaza on Fort Eddy Road in Concord was cleared out by police this week, forcing more than 20 people to find somewhere else to live.

The encampment along the Merrimack River, which is one of many throughout the city, was behind Shaw’s supermarket and several other stores. Its proximity to the shopping plaza gave those living at the site access to services and amenities, said Owen Westover, a homeless outreach stabilization specialist for the Belknap-Merrimack Community Action Program.

“We only found out this morning that this site was being evacuated,” Westover said. “The issue is that only so many camps are that close to services, and this is one of those sites.”

Concord Deputy Chief Police John Thomas said residents were given a 10-day notice to evacuate the property, which is privately owned by Thomas J. Grappone. The L-shaped piece of land is connected to a manufactured housing community farther down the road.

“This landowner is very upset, and I don’t blame him,” Thomas said. “He wanted them off last week, but we don’t have the resources to relocate them, so we have to try to help on the other end by giving them time to get their stuff out of there.”

Most evacuees were on the site for several months and had time to accumulate belongings, build shelters and create an established campsite. Without transportation, removing their property by hand takes time.

“They won’t be able to get everything out of here today,” Thomas said on Monday. “We are going to allow them to come back and get stuff out of here, but they can’t come back and stay here.”

As residents trickled in and out of the wooded area with shopping carts and crates full of belongings, Concord Police officers took inventory of who was living at the site. If they return to the site, they will be charged with criminal trespassing.

The site has been used as a homeless encampment for the last several years and has been evacuated before, Thomas said. The landowner had allowed them to stay on the land until residents started damaging his property by cutting down trees and using them to build structures or for fires.

As a result of the evacuation, residents of the campsite will be forced to take shelter at other sites throughout the city or stay with friends until the emergency winter shelter opens in December or housing becomes available.

“They will be entered into the state system, and there will be housing opportunities for them down the line, but there is a two-year wait,” Westover said.

Homeless individuals often have a difficult time getting a job or renting an apartment due to past evictions and criminal histories, said Freeman Toth, manager of the Belknap-Merrimack Community Action Program.

“People don’t want to give them a second chance,” he said.

While taking an inventory of the site, which stretched nearly a half-mile into the woods, police found stolen generators, tools and chainsaws and drug paraphernalia.

Some tents were filled with trash, hypodermic needles, glass vials, alcohol containers and handmade tourniquets, while others contained storage bins, shag rugs, family photos and makeshift kitchens.

“There are multiple aspects of homelessness; there are folks that just want to live off the grid, there are the homeless that are mentally ill and there are the homeless that struggle with addiction,” Thomas said. “Everyone thinks there is a fix for homelessness but there isn’t, and we have to attack it in different ways.”

When Thomas first began working for the city 28 years ago, he said there was a small group of homeless people that the department was familiar with.

Now, there are between 150 and 175 homeless individuals known to the department, but Thomas speculates the total population is closer to 300.

“What we’re seeing now is a different breed of homelessness,” he said.

“They are survivalists; they’re stealing things, cutting down trees on private property, building shelters and preparing for the winter. You have to find your own land to do that; you can’t do that on someone else’s land.”

Scott Hill of Laconia joined the campsite just last week seeking better rehabilitation and recovery services in the city. He left the woods with a crate strapped to the back of his bike, unsure of where to go.

Robin Lane, 55, has been homeless in Concord for three years. She said she has been evacuated from several sites across the city, and it never gets easier.

“I’ve been here for three months,” she said. “It’s like leaving your apartment; you just don’t know where to go.”

Trying to find a new place to live in less than 10 days was nearly impossible for most.

“We’ve known this was coming for a few days and we tried to clean it up, but we’re not getting any help; we’re getting kicked out instead,” Lane said. “I’m worried about where I’m going to go and how I’m going to get there.”

Four homeless encampments across Concord have been evacuated over the last three weeks, Thomas said. One near Locke Road cost the city nearly $40,000 to clean up.

Police speculate the cleanup of the Fort Eddy site could cost the landowner more than $60,000.

The next to go is the site behind Everett Arena, which is on state-owned land, Thomas said. The residents there have built a latrine that leads directly into the Merrimack River, which has become a public health hazard.

“It’s going to be cleared soon and we are going to help them, but we are waiting for the state to decide when they want to clear that,” Thomas said.

In the meantime, Toth and Westover will continue working with the displaced residents to help them find shelter and services throughout the winter.

“We just need to keep them alive until things get better,” Toth said.

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