In Claremont, Homeless Man Dies in Camp

Claremont — Police said Tuesday that the bitter cold of the last several days was a likely factor in the death of a homeless man whose body was found in an area off Maple Avenue where he was known to camp.

Matthew Harriman, 49, was found in the snow by police officers who searched the area after being notified by relatives and friends that they had not heard from Harriman for several days.

Claremont Police Chief Alex Scott said Tuesday officers went to the Maple Avenue location and discovered Harriman’s tent but he was not in it.

“Officers began a search of the area around the camp site and located Harriman deceased in the snow,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

The state medical examiner was called to the scene. The cause of Harriman’s death is under investigation, but Scott said exposure to the elements was likely a “contributing factor.”

Nighttime temperatures have dipped to below zero this week. Police did not say when they believe Harriman died.

“I don’t know the full circumstances but it is a tragedy (if he died from the cold),” City Manager Guy Santagate said. “And it is unnecessary. If you come to the city, we will help you.”

Scott said in an interview Tuesday night that the city has an unknown number of homeless individuals who live in circumstances similar to Harriman’s but because the population is transient, it is hard to have a firm census.

“Often this type of person finds a place to stay, (when conditions warrant) whether formally, like the homeless shelter, or informally through friends and family,” Scott said. “When the weather improves they go back out on their own.”

Their precise locations are never certain either, Scott said, because they tend to move around, especially if complaints are made. Scott said that the police never turn away someone in need of shelter.

“If someone comes in and is need of services, there are a number of different avenues,” the chief said. “Ultimately, we would find them a place and if worse came to worse, they could stay in the lobby (of the police station).”

Alan Graves, who has been living homeless in Claremont since last summer when he lost his job, said Tuesday night that he knew Harriman, but only by his first name.

“It can happen to any of us any day,” Graves, who was outside last night, said in a text message. “There are good people out here that don’t want anyone to know they don’t have a home.

“I’m doing my best to stay warm.”

A few years ago, Deacon Alex Rastorguyeff with the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church on Sullivan Street worked with another deacon at the church on what they called their “cold weather project.” The goal was to ensure a warm place for those, who for whatever reason, refuse to go to the police or to a homeless shelter.

“There are definitely a number of people in the general area (Claremont and beyond) who fit that description,” said Rastorguyeff. “But it is hard to put a number on it.”

The cold weather project would identify a place, such as a church or other facility, where people could spend a few hours warming up and maybe get coffee or something to eat before leaving the next morning, Rastorguyeff said. He noted the concept was presented at a city council meeting a few years ago to see if it would generate some interest in the community but never got off the ground. The council offered support but code issues were part of the reason nothing developed, Rastorguyeff said.

Santagate said the city does more than most in the state to provide services for the homeless.

“We would have found him a shelter and if it was too crowded, we would get him a room,” Santagate said. “We have a good safety net here.”

Scott said he was aware of one other incident in the last 10 yearswhere a homeless individual was found dead during a cold period; it was determined the death was due to exposure and a medical condition.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

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