Up on this hill near downtown Franklin, homeless people are a world apart

  • Christopher Poirier, 45, sits near the trestle in downtown Franklin at the base of the hill that homeless have been gathering on Thursday, October 4, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Christopher Poirier, 45, sits near the trestle in downtown Franklin at the base of the hill that homeless have been gathering on Thursday, October 4, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Christopher Poirier, 45, sits near the trestle in downtown Franklin at the base of the hill that’s been a popular gathering spot for the homeless. Poirier, no relation to officer Daniel Poirier, says he does not spend time on the hill.

  • Christopher Poirier, 45, takes a drink of a Naddy Daddy near the trestle in downtown Franklin at the base of the hill that homeless have been gathering on Thursday, October 4, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Franklin police officer Daniel Poirier walks past one of the areas where homeless people gather on a hill near downtown Franklin on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Franklin police officer Daniel Poirier (left) and Chief David Goldstein near the trestle at the bottom of the hill where the homeless have been gathering in downtown Franklin on Tuesday, October 2, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Franklin police officer Daniel Poirier (left), Det. Kent Matthews and Chief David Goldstein talk on a hill overlooking downtown Franklin on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Franklin police officer Daniel Poirier on the path leading up to the hill overlooking downtown where the homeless have been gathering. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 10/6/2018 10:23:57 PM

The three Franklin cops gave a tour, showing a piece of real estate with plenty to offer while rain sizzled like bacon on a stove.

This property, Franklin’s finest said, has easy access, with entrances on either side. It’s lush-green in the summer, bursting with color in the fall. It’s convenient, centrally located downtown, on a hill that overlooks a beautifully manicured park, providing privacy if you want it, a place to people-watch while blending into the landscape.

Rushing water from the nearby Winnipesaukee River drowns out the hum of cars passing on Route 3. Down the hill are city hiking trails, across the street is kayaking that attracts adventurers nationwide.

“Not a bad spot,” Concord High graduate Daniel Poirier of the Franklin Police Department told me. “I wouldn’t recommend you walking up here, though.”

That’s what you find when taking a closer look, digging a little deeper. You find a strip of elevated land, about 50 yards long, near an old train trestle that provides an historic flavor.

You find homeless people at and around this area, unofficial Franklin residents who, while gathered in this spot and minding their own business, are doing nothing illegal, nothing that Poirier can do anything about, because the land is privately owned by a mysterious figure, a trustee, who lives in the North Country and rarely answers his phone.

And you’ll find a city down below, forever trying to improve its reputation, that wonders what the future holds for this unique place.

“Obviously people are not happy that a lot of homeless people are there,” said Rep. Dave Testerman, standing in front of Franklin City Hall on election day last week. “The problem is it’s private property and the owner doesn’t care. There are no ‘No Trespassing’ signs.”

The scene has done nothing to lift Franklin’s inferiority complex, which stems from several factors. It’s the smallest and poorest city in the state. There’s a lead paint problem. The percentage of high school graduates who attend college is relatively low.

That’s why buying this land is so vital, city officials say. There’s a process going on in Franklin, a new process that could change the downtown area, adding the lone official whitewater park in New England.

City Manager Judie Milner said Franklin received a land and water conservation fund grant for $400,000 last Monday. She said Franklin hopes to combine the Mill City and Trestle View Parks with the private land across the street, forming a tourist attraction that, according to data she found, could mean 161,000 tourists and $6.8 million annually to the economy.

First, though, the city needs to buy the land, and here’s where the story sinks into mystery and frustration.

Katie Gargano, Franklin’s city clerk and tax collector, said the land’s owner is listed under EMK Trust out of California. She said the tax bill is $160 per year and has been paid on time since 1997.

Jim Aberg, the executive director of the Franklin Business and Industrial group, the city’s economic arm, said the trustee is Keith Kidder of Errol. He gave me Kidder’s number but no one answered and there was no voicemail.

Milner said Kidder rarely answers his phone, adding that, “He lives way up north, so no cell, no email, no communications.”

But Milner said negotiations have happened. She said the property is assessed at $40,000, but Kidder wants $75,000.

“We want to get it closer to the $40,000,” Milner said.

Until the city can buy the land, or until Kidder posts signs there, Franklin police are left in the odd position of having no authority or power when it comes to clearing the area, unless a complaint leads to a violation, something like disturbing the peace.

Sometimes bike patrols help police reach the area with no advanced warning, leading to arrests of those with outstanding warrants.

“We get complaints when people spill onto the rail trail when other people want to use it,” Franklin police Chief Dave Goldstein told me. “But officers have come to know them and tell them not to interfere if there is an event going on and they don’t.”

City residents, however, have a pre-determined vision and fear, as most people do when it comes to homeless areas. To be sure, bad things happen, and on our way to the spot, detective Kent Matthews spoke to a homeless man sporting a shiner that could be seen from far away.

The entire area is a dichotomy, a contradiction, an area of mixed messages, with a sign for Mojalaki Golf Club, the parks’ neatly cut grass and the magnificent old trestle mixing with stories of despair, empty 25-ounce Natty Daddy beer cans and trash.

No one was there on the high spot that rainy day with the Franklin police. We saw chairs, benches and soaked campfire wood. We saw the steep path, at the end of a stone retaining wall on Prospect Street, where a homeless man fell and hit his head.

“You can see from this trail if you’re intoxicated how tough it would be to navigate,” Poirier said. “Actually that wasn’t called in. It was one of our sergeants driving by who found him.”

The injured man was 45-year-old Christopher Poirier, no relation to the Franklin officer, except that both are involved in this ongoing issue. I ran into him by chance two days after the police escort.

Christopher sat at a picnic table on city land, down from the raised private property. He drank Natty Daddy from a water bottle and had three ice-cold cans on the table, inside a plastic bag.

He had a salt-and-pepper beard, matching Dickies pants and jacket, and a sadness mixed with calm to his tired eyes. He lives in a tent somewhere with his 66-year-old mother, Shirley. He wouldn’t show me where and said he doesn’t spend much time on the hill, where drug use is known to happen.

“I don’t do drugs,” Christopher said. “I just try to stay away from them and mind my own business.”

He’s been homeless since March, saying his apartment was condemned because of roaches and bedbugs. He did time after a DUI, unable to pay the fine, and spoke with pride about the GED he earned in jail. “I got an A-minus for a score,” he said.

As for the spill he took, Christopher remembered nothing about it. He banged his head and hurt his leg and woke up in Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

“I didn’t know where I was or what had happened,” Christopher told me. “I came back here afterward. I’m all better now.”

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