MANCHESTER — Officials hope to encourage the inhabitants of the city’s homeless camps to start using shelters or find housing on their own with the removal late last week of portable toilets and hand-washing sinks from the sites.
Although the facilities were intended for use during the pandemic and not beyond, many who have been staying at four encampments around the city objected to the move as unfair.
In a letter sent to aldermen this week, Mayor Joyce Craig said she recently met with state officials, including Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette, and determined Friday would be the last day for the state-funded services.
Meal deliveries to the camps are stopping, too. The person contracted to deliver the meals — Peter Telge of Stark Brewery — announced to residents of Camp Live Free on Friday that breakfast and dinner will be provided at the old St. Casimir School building starting Saturday.
It will last for at least a couple of weeks, he said. The New Horizons soup kitchen remains closed because of COVID-19.
“I do not anticipate the transition of services will be easy, but it is necessary,” Craig wrote in her letter.
Her chief of staff, Laura Smith, told the Union Leader that the residents will not be forcibly removed.
Several camp residents said they were sad to see the bathrooms and sinks go.
“It’s wrong. We have nowhere to go now,” said Gene Gonzales, 58. He wonders whether he will be ticketed for indecent exposure if he relieves himself in the bushes.
Gonzales said he was working with the Veterans Administration to get an apartment, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything stopped.
Between 40 and 50 people live at Camp Live Free beneath the Amoskeag Bridge in the North End, said Anthony Rodriguez. He wonders how long the camp will survive without sanitary services.
“They took the Porta-Potties away. They took the amenities away. Now they’re going to use that as an excuse to take us away,” said Rodriguez, who is 37.
Rodriguez said he and his wife have $1,600 in monthly income between them but can’t find an apartment.
In April, the city rushed to set up the camps as the New Horizons shelter experienced its first cases of COVID-19 and residents cleared out.
Families in Transition, which operates the shelter, has since decontaminated the shelter and reduced its capacity to meet social distancing guidelines, Craig wrote. She said it has beds available.
“From the start, it has been communicated to individuals at the encampments that this was a temporary solution through the end of June,” she wrote.
She said outreach teams have been working with homeless people on transition plans.
Families in Transition has a total of 121 beds; on Thursday, 80 were occupied. The city has estimated that 120 people are living in the street and in camps.
On Friday, well-wishers brought a raft of food to the camp. It included cases of water bottles, granola bars, bagels and bananas.