May 24. 2018 7:50PM

Manchester homeless camps along river removed despite appeal to mayor

New Hampshire Union Leader

A crew from the state Department of Transportation break down and remove a homeless camp on the west bank of the Merrimack River in Manchester. (-DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — State Police and highway workers cleared out homeless camps along the Merrimack River on Thursday morning, sending two residents packing and throwing away loads of camping gear and belongings of others who had presumably departed ahead of the sweep.

The state Department of Transportation said it filled about three dump trucks with the camping gear, clothes, food, furniture and other household items it gathered from the riverbank.

Three troopers, a Manchester police officer and about a dozen highway workers participated in the effort. Kai Chambers, a longtime resident of the riverbank, walked away carrying two full backpacks and a bag of belongings.

She left behind clothes, food, chairs and a family-sized tent secured by ropes. The campsite where she said she has lived for years included numerous decorations: a bouquet of artificial black roses, a hand-sized American flag, Christmas ornaments on a bush, and an infant-sized Teddy bear secured in a baby stroller.

“We don’t want to be here. We really don’t,” said Trooper K.M. Fagan as he approached Chambers.

She complained, but then turned her attention to the Manchester police officer and told him to not bring in animal control to catch feral cats living in the area.

“Everyone’s going to stay away from my cats,” she said.

DOT spokesman William Boynton said state police asked two residents to leave. The operation took about three hours and ended around 12:30 p.m.

DOT has said they are cleaning up the camps in response to complaints they received from Manchester city officials about visibility and safety along Interstate 293. In the past, Mayor Joyce Craig said she forwarded a single complaint to homeless camps to the police department.

“Our number one priority is the safety and well-being of Manchester residents,” Craig said. “When a camp is identified due to a public health or safety risk, the City works to connect individuals with services they may need.”

The operation began near the Queen City Avenue exit on the northbound side of the highway. It included a front-end loader, a Bobcat and a dump truck. Workers bagged belongings and hoisted them up the river bank, where the loaders scooped up bags and lifted them into the dump truck.

Chambers has said she lived outdoors in the area for 15 years. She spoke to Craig on Wednesday trying to forestall the eviction.

“The meeting with Ms. Chambers went well (Wednesday), she seemed receptive to receiving services in the future. We exchanged information and left the meeting on good terms,” Craig said.

Chambers said Craig promised to do what she can to restore her Medicaid and keep her on the West Side. Chambers said she will speak to Families in Transition, which has taken over operation of the New Horizons shelter and provides support for the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness.

A self-described alcoholic, Chambers said she cannot work because of borderline split personality and receives about $750 a month in disability payments. 

“I’ve been outside most of my life,” she said. “When I get ready to go in, I’ll go in.”