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Police, NH mayor at odds after homeless woman dropped off at Manchester shelter

By WMTW Staff

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    MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (WMTW) — The mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire, is putting the city of Sanford on blast after she says police drove a homeless woman to a shelter that did not have beds available.

Sanford police, however, tell a different story.

Sanford police have a unit that is specially trained to respond to calls involving homelessness and mental health concerns; they claim they were trying to keep the woman safe while respecting her wishes. In this case, Deputy Chief Eric Small says, the woman wanted to walk south to Florida.

In a phone interview, he says the woman was in a local shelter in Sanford and did not want to return to it. According to Small, she declined their offer to bring her to a shelter in Portland.

While urging her not to make the dangerous and drastic decision to walk to Florida, Sanford’s officers say they bought her warm winter clothing and worked to find a solution.

After learning that a Portsmouth shelter was already at capacity, Small says the officers found Families In Transition in Manchester in an online search. They assumed the shelter would have open beds since it was listed as a 24-hour shelter that doesn’t require intake appointments. He admits, however, that no calls were made to confirm availability.

In letters sent to Sanford leaders Tuesday and Wednesday, Mayor Joyce Craig says the woman ended up at her office on Tuesday.

It’s unclear how much time elapsed between when she was dropped off at the shelter and when she came into contact with the mayor. Craig says the woman told her she had no ties to Manchester and had never been to New Hampshire before.

Craig says officials contacted Sanford police and asked them to pick her up. After hearing no response, she claims they made arrangements for her to sleep overnight at the city’s warming shelter.

Craig said Sanford police refused to come back and get the woman. In a phone interview, however, Small said, “that’s not factual.”

In the morning the woman decided to go back to Portland where city officials were able to confirm an open bed.

“That was news to us, because when we had the person here in our city, they had refused to go to Portland,” Small said.

Wednesday morning, Small says his chief and the Manchester police chief agreed to meet halfway in Portsmouth so that she could safely get back to Portland.

Small says he called in the same officer who had driven the woman to Manchester. That officer was not originally scheduled to work that day, but by the time they arrived at the station, Small says they learned that city officials in Manchester had secured her a ride-share back to Portland instead.

In the letter, Craig called the behavior of Sanford city officials “shameful” and “inhumane.”

Small refuted that view of the situation, saying his officers were working to make sure the woman would be safe and warm.

“Our policy is not to just to bring people to other cities. It’s not something that we would want done to us, and not something we would ever do to somebody else,” Small says. “Our policy also is to seek out resources locally, and if they don’t exist, to continue to search, and try to connect people with somebody, someplace where they can be safe.”

It’s unclear if the Mayor spoke directly with anyone in the Manchester or Sanford police departments.

According to the mayor, Sanford City Manager Steven Buck called the situation “a mistake” during a conversation Wednesday.

Asked what his officers would do if this situation came up again, Small said, “We meet people where they’re at and we try to help them and if somebody doesn’t want services, we still try to come up with a safe solution. That’s exactly what we did here with this person.”

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