Gov. Chris Sununu insisted Thursday that state outreach workers are in Manchester daily and discussing options directly with homeless people, including dozens facing eviction from the Hillsborough County courthouse grounds on Monday.
But Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan said he hasn’t seen any state presence in the camps, especially the growing location on the lawn of the state-owned courthouse.
Last week, state officials posted a notice that campers on the property had until Monday to leave. Meanwhile, the city’s only two emergency homeless shelters are full.
On Thursday, Sununu said the focus is on working with people to let them know about services and opportunities. Outreach workers are on the ground in Manchester every day, Sununu said. The governor said he can’t force people to take services.
Goonan said he was surprised by Sununu’s remarks.
“I’ve never seen them. I didn’t know the state had that type of team,” said Goonan, who has played a key role in addressing the city’s homeless problem.
He said he visited the courthouse camp on Thursday and got a “resounding shrug of their shoulders” when he asked people there if they have spoken with anyone from other agencies.
However, during a news conference Thursday, Sununu said, “Our teams have spent more time in the city of Manchester on this issue over the past 18 months than any other time in the state’s history. Far and away more time.”
“For the city of Manchester to say that they’re not aware of the state’s personal, one-on-one involvement on this issue is absolutely false,” Sununu said. “Of course they know we’re there because we’re talking to them virtually every single day.”
Last week, mayors of the state’s 13 cities wrote Sununu calling on him to develop a statewide strategy to address homelessness. On Thursday, Sununu said he is preparing a detailed response to the letter.
Goonan said his firefighters are part of an outreach team that includes Families in Transition, which operates the homeless shelter, and health care and mental health providers.
Goonan said a majority of the people on the courthouse lawn would take a shelter bed, but only one or two become available on any given day. Two shelters operated by Families in Transition/New Horizons have 107 beds between them. The city estimates that 365 people are living “unsheltered” in the city.
“In the big picture, there’s just not enough shelter beds,” Goonan said.
This week, Goonan counted 42 tents on the courthouse lawns. He estimated that the camp has at least 50 people.
When state officials erected no-camping signs in early October, they said housing options were being developed by officials from several state departments, as well as the Hillsborough County sheriff.