Friday, October 21, 2016

N.H. daily examines one city's rural homeless concerns through ongoing series

Homeless in Lebanon, N.H. (Photo by James Patterson)
The Valley News, of Lebanon, N.H., in the Upper Connecticut River valley, is chronicling local homelessness in a series. The city's population of 13,599 typically doubles during the day because it is the region's hub for work and shopping.

This summer Lebanon created a nine-member task force to address the city's growing homeless problem, Tim Camerato reports for the Valley News. Homeless concerns include an encampment on city-owned land where 12 people were believed to be living in a vacant lot.

While the original squatters were believed to be law-abiding people, there has been concern that more people are flocking to the lot, leading to a rise in drugs and gangs, Camerato writes. Camping is illegal "in the city’s general commercial zone, where the lot is located. There’s also a state law prohibiting unauthorized camping on government property." One solution, to find housing for the homeless, has been met with some resistance from homeless at the lot.

Bing map
Lebanon city officials in June proposed a camping ordinance that would allow police to "impose a $100 fine for parking or camping in city-owned lots for more than two hours between dusk and dawn," Camerato writes in a separate story. The American Civil Liberties Union protested that decision as "bad policy". Attorney Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU’s legal director, wrote in a letter to city officials: “Fining and evicting individuals who lack even the most basic means is a poor use of police resources and only serves to further burden and marginalize the most vulnerable citizens in our community."

The ordinance was revised in September to give first-time violators a warning, with a second offense resulting in the $100 fine, Camerato reports in a separate story. The revision was the result of a June meeting, attended by 100 people, where "many argued the proposal effectively criminalized homelessness since it’s unlikely those fined would be able to pay." A public hearing earlier this month on the ordinance was postponed in "order to rework the proposal to give police more discretion when dealing with the homeless."

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