MANCHESTER — City officials and the head of a church group that serves a free breakfast to the homeless appear to be close to an agreement on a new downtown location for the weekend event.
The Parks Division had denied a permit to "Do you know Him? Ministries" to use Veterans Memorial Park, where it was allowed to serve the breakfast last year. News of the move sparked an outcry, with some charging that the city was turning its back on the needy.
Bill Sullivan, the president of the ministry, met with Mayor Ted Gatsas on Monday, and he said he was confident that they would be able to reach an agreement on an alternative venue in time for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting at 7:30 p.m. this evening. The issue is also on the agenda of the Committee on Administration, which meets at 6 p.m.
"I'm pretty positive we'll have something done," Sullivan said.
Sullivan also emphasized that he didn't think the business community was to blame for the permit being denied.
"I went to a meeting with the chamber," Sullivan said, referring to the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. The group, he said, did not have a problem with the breakfast, but some questioned whether Veterans Park was the right venue.
"They had a legitimate complaint about illegal activity at night (in the park)," said Sullivan, who owns a trophy business in Hooksett and is a member of the chamber. Robin Comstock, president of the Manchester chamber, said the organization hasn't "taken a position" on the issue, but she stressed that Veterans Park is a vital part of the city.
"It really is this beautiful entrance and gateway to Manchester," she said. "We've been working hard to get upgrades to the park, to have a richer blend of all kinds from the community enjoying the park," she said.
The chamber's Manchester Welcome Center is located in the northwest corner of the park. The facility provides information to tourists and people visiting the city on business.
In an earlier interview, Parks Chief Peter Capano indicated that members of the business community had raised concerns about the Veterans Park location.
Mayor Ted Gatsas insisted that it was park's role as a popular venue for events over the summer, not business concerns, that made the site problematic.
"There's an awful lot of events there over the weekends," he said. "We wouldn't want to have to tell the group on any given Sunday that they can't use the park."
Gatsas said he was surprised that the issue had created such a stir. "I don't know where the problem is coming from. Me and Mr. Sullivan have been talking for about four weeks, trying to come to a common understating," he said.
Still, both Gatsas and Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, who has been active in homeless issues, questioned the role the breakfast was playing in the city's overall efforts to address the problem.
"Do we have people who are homeless and need a hand-up? Absolutely," Gatsas said. "Do we have people from other communities coming here? Yes we do."
Gatsas was referring to reports that other communities send their neediest residents to Manchester agencies.
"We have known that forever," Long said. "The problem is nobody ever cataloged it."
Long said city service agencies are making progress in quantifying the homeless population and the services they provide.
"I'm a firm believer in data," he said. "To have an organization come in have a breakfast, is that really working toward the goal of eradicating homelessnees?" he said.
Long added, "If I'm having a hard time feeding my family, I'm taking them down there for breakfast. If you need breakfast, then God bless you, come get breakfast. But we need to identify that. Are there 200 homeless people coming, 300?"
Prior to the breakfast, there is a prayer service, meant to deliver "a message of hope," in Sullivan's words.
"Do you know Him? Ministries" had been using Veterans Park to serve the breakfast on the weekends until December, when it took the operation indoors at the Salvation Army.
With the warmer weather, the group again sought to serve the breakfast outside at Veterans Park, but the group was told by the Parks Division that it would not be getting a permit this year.
The group has continued to use the Salvation Army grounds to serve the breakfast.