CONCORD, N.H. — Manchester’s aldermen are meeting tonight, and housing justice advocates are planning to rally outside city hall an hour before the public comment period at 7 p.m
They’re hoping the demonstration will convince aldermen to kill an ordinance allowing police to sweep homeless encampments on public property even when shelters are full.
Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur proposed the ordinance in July.
“After watching a woman who had propped up a tent at City Hall last month and then hearing and watching her video, I learned that our police officers, under Ordinance 130.13 Camping in Public Places, cannot hand out citations for public camping if no beds are available,” Levasseur wrote in a memorandum to the Committee on Public Safety, Health & Traffic.
“The effect of this ordinance is that it handcuffs our police officers from enforcing state statute 236:58 by placing unreasonable restrictions on the city,” he continued. He drafted an ordinance allowing police to cite people for camping even when no shelter space is available.
Although that ordinance has been tabled, the organizers want aldermen to kill it outright to eliminate the possibility of it getting reintroduced and passed.
“What we’re constantly seeing is our shelters are either at capacity or near capacity most nights,” said Brandon Lemay, a New Hampshire housing justice organizer with Rights and Democracy.
In previous years, he said, shelters were only full when there was bad weather. But now, he said, the number of people seeking services is often greater than available beds. Preliminary data shows that homelessness in New Hampshire is up more than 50 percent compared to last year, WMUR reported.
“It’s no surprise there are more people on the streets,” Lemay said. But he said criminalizing homelessness is the wrong approach, although he worries elected officials may use it to score political points during an election year.
“We also realize this is an election season and homelessness is a huge issue. We’re worried that these kinds of measures are just there to show the public they’re trying to do something,” he said, adding that being tough on crime is often equated to being tough on homelessness.
He said elected officials should instead focus on investing in housing.
The rally will start at 6 p.m. Supporting organizations include 350 NH Action, the American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition, the New Hampshire Youth Movement, and others.
This story first appeared in Globe NH | Morning Report, our free newsletter focused on the news you need to know about New Hampshire, including great coverage from the Boston Globe and links to interesting articles from other places. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.