MANCHESTER — A Facebook video posted over the weekend by a city alderman showing homeless people arguing with first responders has sparked debate on how to address the growing number of vagrants in downtown Manchester.
“We must tackle this issue as a community,” said Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines, who filmed and posted the video after calling 911 when two people “passed out” in front of him Saturday afternoon. “There are solutions and people need to feel safe while enjoying our downtown. We need to find the will as a community to stop turning a blind eye.”
Saturday’s incident followed a discussion by Baines and other city aldermen on how to deal with the growing homeless community congregating on downtown sidewalks.
Baines said on Saturday he visited Bridge Cafe to meet with owner David Perry to discuss the homelessness issue.
“It was the fourth or fifth conversation I had with someone about it that day,” said Baines. “David said he had asked a few people to leave Bridge Cafe, after they kept coming in and taking free coffee.”
Baines said as he was leaving Bridge Cafe around 3:30 p.m. Saturday, he saw two people fall and pass out on a sidewalk.
“One wasn’t moving at all,” said Baines.
Baines said he called 911, but before first responders arrived several people came and carried the two individuals off toward Republic Cafe.
“Even though help was on the way, they didn’t want to wait,” said Baines. “They pulled them out of there before police and fire showed up. I think they were trying to keep them out of trouble.”
Baines said once first responders arrived they began speaking with people sitting outside 1087 Elm St., telling them they couldn’t be there.
One man can be heard in the video yelling, “You need to get out of my face!” at city firefighters, referring to one first responder by a racial slur and swearing multiple times.
View the video Baines posted below (NOTE: STRONG LANGUAGE):
Baines said he hesitated before posting the video of the interaction. He understands homelessness is a complicated issue, and the reasons people find themselves on the street are varied.
“Manchester is by no means alone in dealing with this issue, however we have a duty to do our best in addressing this issue,” said Baines. “We have an obligation as a city to the health of the homeless and we have an obligation to business owners and those that want to conduct business downtown. I’m fed up. I hear about this issue from downtown business owners every day, probably 25 to 30 calls a week. It’s all anyone is talking about.”
Baines said he’s heard from people saying members of the homeless community have become more aggressive in recent weeks.
“They are getting on people that pass by without giving them anything, swearing at them,” said Baines. “It’s the worst I’ve seen it in the past week or so, and I don’t know why.”
Last week, Baines pitched a three-point plan to address the homelessness issue, after Greg Cullen, co-owner of the WBC Office Suites at 1087 Elm St. and Peter Macone, owner/operator of Republic and Campo Enoteca restaurants on Elm Street, raised concerns with the impact the growing number of vagrants is having on their businesses.
The plan calls for the creation of an outreach group including public health, mental health, welfare and Families in Transition; organize a community meeting in early 2019 to discuss the homelessness issue; and looking at changing the city ordinance to allow business owners to apply for year-round encumbrance permits. These permits are currently issued to businesses between April 1 and Oct. 15 to control the use of sidewalk space outside their businesses as needed. Baines said such a change would allow business owners to maintain control of the immediate area outside their doors, and prevent groups of vagrants from urinating and defecating in alcoves and doorways.
“Cleaning up feces is almost a daily occurrence,” said Baines.
Mayor Joyce Craig said a collaborative group including Maureen Beauregard, executive director of Families in Transition, is expected to meet in early January.
Ward 4 Alderman Chris Herbert questions why more isn’t being done to go after those breaking the law.
“We’re dealing with a group of people who are broken in some important way here,” said Herbert. “Sounds to me like it’s a real costly issue in terms of the downtown, and I don’t hear anything that sounds to me like a solution, not even close to it. The immediate solution is to get these folks help, which we apparently don’t have enough of, but we need to get them off the streets and to someplace, and they need to stay there at least overnight, and if they repeat it, do it again, keep bringing it in front of a judge. We have to push back. This is out of control.”
Aldermen voted to send Baines’s request to look at extending the city’s encumbrance permits to year-round to the Aldermanic Committee on Administration for study.
Baines said his concerns about the homelessness issue are the same ones he has been raising since last February.
“These comments received significant backlash and comments, to me almost as if talking about problems was not the way we should act as elected officials,” said Baines. “I know we are supposed to speak positively about the city, but we need to talk about these problems. We need to bring the community together on this issue, and we need to find relief for those conducting business in the downtown and trying to enjoy the downtown. We can find a safer environment for the homeless, and we need some relief for the business community.”