Summer will be upon us soon, and with that, the treasure of summer nights.
Cooling temperatures, slowly retreating sunlight. A symphony of crickets and peepers. Unless if you’re homeless and go to New Horizons shelter to sleep. No summer night for you.
You have to sign in by 6:30 p.m. You get your last smoke at 7:30 p.m. In bed by 8 p.m. And lights out — even if the sun doesn’t cooperate — by 8:30 p.m.
“How can you tell a 59-year-old man he’s got to be in bed by 8 o’clock at night?” said Jack McLan. A one-time homeless man, McLan credits New Horizons with getting him on his feet, and he volunteers there at times. Still, he chafes over some of the rules.
“It’s worse than jail,” he said.
Clearly, that is the sentiment among many of the hardcore homeless in this city who are living in camps or sleeping on downtown streets.
Some are comfortable outside, said Michelle Duguay, a formerly homeless person who runs the organization New Hampshire Homeless Outreach.
Others have mental health reasons for avoiding the shelter. And some have had run-ins with the staff, she said.
And then, there are the rules:
• Wake up at 5 a.m.
• Consent to random searches of your bags.
• See a caseworker after your third night.
• Save half the income from your job (and New Horizons is the bank).
• No physical contact, not even a hug.
• No spending money frivolously or getting arrested for drugs.
• No fighting, threatening behavior, drugs or alcohol, weapons.
• No talking to volunteers who help at the soup kitchen.
• And no changing your T-shirt in the sleeping area if that means a bare chest.
I’m sure New Horizons can justify every rule (and there are even more). But balance the rules with the proliferation of homeless camps in the city.
The camps are filled with people who — whether mentally ill, drug addicts, petty criminals or just poor — don’t, or can’t, follow rules well.
I asked Maureen Beauregard, the new boss of New Horizons, about the rules, especially the summer night rule.
“I hear what you’re saying. On a personal level, I hear what you’re saying,” she said about the curfew.
But Families in Transition, the agency that started running New Horizons in January, won’t be changing any long-standing rules right away.
“We’re only in our fifth month,” said Beauregard, president of Families in Transition (FiT). She said FiT will make changes eventually but is doing its homework before doing so. That includes travel to California and Utah to review other shelters, researching best practices, tapping shelter guests for their ideas, and even empowering them to come up with changes.
It will also involve solutions for “people living at the river bank,” she said.
One of them is Lisa Anne Hampton.
Hampton, 55, was arrested March 22 at New Horizons. According to police reports, she did not leave when ordered out by New Horizons manager Wayne Jacques. Police reports say she came by asking for food. (The time of the arrest, 4:51 p.m., matches up with the hour the soup kitchen is open.)
Hampton said she only wanted to use the bathroom.
Jacques “told Hampton many times that they did not want her there today and she was not allowed in,” reads the police report.
“I did nothing to break the law or the rules of the shelter,” Hampton said this week. “Why was I not allowed? I was homeless. I was hungry.”
If anything, Hampton is flamboyant. She often wears elaborate costume jewelry and coordinated dresses and hats and lipstick.
She recognizes most street people and renders a strong hug and an enthusiastic “Hello” with her sing-song voice.
Her disposition is matched by blue eyes that have the tint of a morning sky. She talks non-stop about her Christian faith, her abusive ex-husband, her former run-ins with the law, the camp where she lives. It would be impossible for her to follow another rule of the shelter — to eat quietly and leave as quickly as possible.
When Hampton showed up in court for a hearing last week, her public defender told Hampton she wanted her to be tested for competency.
She refused and said she wants to fire the defender.
“These are taxpayer dollars at work — a court, public defender, a forensic psychologist,” she said.
I can’t get an answer about why New Horizons ordered Hampton out. McLan said he was there at the time, and Hampton was causing no trouble. I supplied her arrest paperwork to FiT, but Beauregard said it would be wrong to talk about clients.
Hampton could be on one of two lists of people banned from the shelter. One list, my shelter sources tell me, is termed the eviction list, and people can get back if they meet with their social worker and promise to behave.
Another is a formal no-trespass list, which involves the police being notified. Police spokesman Lt. Brian O’Keefe said he cannot access the list without a name of the person asked not to return.
Beauregard would not tell me how many people are on either list. She also won’t answer questions about how many New Horizons staff have left since the merger/takeover. My sources say it’s at least four out of the 30. Beauregard would not confirm that. In it’s latest tax filings, the organization received $2 million in government funding and $540,000 in donations.
“We really want to focus on the things we are doing moving forward,” Beauregard said. “We don’t think New Horizons is broken.”