MANCHESTER — A resident in a city neighborhood said she was shocked last week to see a Veterans Affairs worker drop off a homeless man and allegedly try to help him set up camp in nearby woods. Officials said they later took the man to an emergency shelter.
The homeowner said the two discontinued their effort once she started asking questions and pointing out they were on private property. The incident took place last Wednesday on the portion of Smyth Road east of Mammoth Road, about a quarter-mile from the Manchester VA Medical Center.
“I was appalled that a federal employee in a government car thought that was a good idea,” said Laurie Kempf, who lives across from where the car parked.
A VA spokesman said the VA does not help homeless people establish camps.
Spokesman Kristin Pressly said VA staff help homeless veterans accomplish personally meaningful goals for housing, employment, recovery and independent living.
“If a veteran is unsheltered and is not amenable to the available shelter options, our goal is to support their overall wellness and health-care need, and in doing so we often provide temporary means to provide comfort consistent with their request,” Pressly wrote in an email.
She said the VA employee was visiting a veteran in need of shelter, and that when they found the land was private they departed. The VA subsequently placed the veteran in a bed in an emergency shelter in Massachusetts, she said.
Kempf said the two had pulled over on a dirt road that runs south of Smyth Road. She said it leads to heavily wooded land where developers considered putting an 85-home neighborhood about six years ago.
City maps show that most of that land around Radburn Street is private, while land to the west is state land.
Kempf said the driver and the passenger were unloading a table along with a tent, blanket and other material. Once she confronted them, they reloaded the car and left.
“There are services in Manchester for veterans and homeless people. At the very least, you need them near where they can get services, food, shelter and what they need to meet their daily needs,” Kempf said.
She expressed concerns about public safety issues such as drug use, criminal activity and fires. Some people live farther up the hill in the woods, she said. The hill crests at Wellington Hill, which has a dense concentration of apartments and condominiums.
The city’s only exclusive shelter for veterans is on the other side of the city, on West Baker Street.
Liberty House has nine beds and was one below capacity on Tuesday because a resident had just left, said Jeff Nelson, executive director of the transitional living home.
Liberty House has a strict no-drugs and no-alcohol policy. Some homeless veterans choose not to live at Liberty House because of the policy and for other reasons, he said.
Others want to live there but can’t. During the first 10 months of this year, Liberty House had 11 openings. Meanwhile, 63 people applied for a spot.
“We still don’t know the real numbers (of homeless veterans),” Nelson said. “Having 63 people apply here tells me it’s still a problem.”
Most homeless veterans he knows of live close to Liberty House, he said.
Pressly said national figures show a 21% drop in homeless veterans in New Hampshire, and a 32% drop in Manchester.
“Manchester is well above the curve in addressing homelessness as the national number of homeless veterans fell 2 percent from the previous year, and down 50 percent over the last 10 years,” Pressly wrote.
Veterans at risk for homelessness should contact the VA Programs for At-Risk Veterans and Their Families page or call the Manchester VA at 624-4366, ext. 3622.
Landlords interested in addressing veteran homelessness should call 624-4366, ext. 6883.