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Homeless woman pleads with mayor to save her camp from removal

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 23. 2018 10:39PM
Kai Chambers arrives at City Hall in Manchester to meet with Mayor Joyce Craig in a last ditch effort to save her homeless camp along the Merrimack River in Manchester. The DOT and state Police are removing the homeless camps on Thursday morning. (DAVID LANE/Staff)

MANCHESTER — A homeless woman visited Mayor Joyce Craig on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to stop state officials from removing homeless people and their belongings from the banks of the Merrimack River today.

Kai Chambers, 47, has said she has lived on the sliver of land between Interstate 293 and the Merrimack River for 15 years. She visited Craig at City Hall after making an appointment.

“This is not about squatters’ rights. It’s about doing the right thing,” Chambers said in a brief interview outside City Hall.

Craig would not have her picture taken with Chambers, and a Union Leader reporter was not allowed in the private meeting, Policy Director Lauren Smith said.

Last week, state Department of Transportation officials posted notices along the riverbank warning anyone who lives there that they have until today to move out. Any property left behind will be thrown away, and future campers will be subject to a fine if caught, the notice said.

The Department of Transportation and New Hampshire State Police will be involved in the cleanup.

DOT spokesman William Boynton said it will begin sometime after 9 a.m. The DOT has stressed that the cleanup is taking place at the request of Manchester city officials. Last week, workers met three people when they put up the notices.

Cathy Kuhn, director of the New Hampshire Coalition for the Homeless, said outreach workers have been speaking to residents and letting them know their options. She would not say what their next step will be, saying they all have different needs.

Some may have family. Others may be receiving a check and be able to move into a rooming house, she said.

“My heart aches that the state is doing this,” said Michelle Duguay, a former homeless woman who runs the grassroots New Hampshire Homeless Outreach. “These people have nothing at this point, and after (Thursday) they will have even less.”

Duguay believes that Craig’s “heart is good,” but said the city’s only solution seems to be to tell people to go to New Horizons shelter. That is not an option for everyone, she said.

Police have said complaints about the camps deal with their visibility and highway dangers; some residents stumble onto the road.

The riverbank is littered with used camping gear, food containers, clothes, and other material that transients use and then abandon.

But more permanent residents such as Chambers have camps that, while cluttered, appear orderly and picked up.

Chambers said homeless camps have gotten a somewhat-deserved bad rap, especially when propane tanks catch on fire. She does not use propane, and limits any fire to small branches that she burns in sand-like soil.

She said DOT workers have recently told her that they don’t have a problem with her.

She would not say where she will spend the next several nights, but said she eventually plans to return.

“I think I’ll be all right. I’ll just let them have their fun,” she said.

Public Safety Local and County Government State Government Manchester

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