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Scope of Lebanon Homeless Task Force Altered

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2016 12:19:53 AM
Modified: 7/8/2016 12:21:45 PM

Lebanon — The City Council on Wednesday night approved the creation of a new task force to address homelessness, but narrowed its size and scope from an earlier proposal due to concerns that a large group could be inefficient.

The nine-member committee will be charged with confronting homelessness in a city-owned lot near Hannaford Supermarket on Route 12A. Its members will consist of Interim City Manager Paula Maville, Human Services Director Lynne Goodwin, police Chief Richard Mello, two city councilors and four representatives from area nonprofits.

The city is considering offering those nonprofit seats to the Upper Valley Haven, Listen Community Services, Tri-County CAP and Silent Warriors, Maville said on Thursday.

The group’s final makeup and mission is markedly different than what councilors Karen Liot Hill and Sarah Welsch initially proposed last week. At that time, the councilors suggested creating a 15-member group with the intent of addressing homelessness on both a local and regional level instead of just targeting homelessness in Lebanon, specifically near Hannaford.

The proposal is a response to roughly a dozen people living in campers and tents in a lot on Market Street behind the Hannaford supermarket. Last month, the City Council took up a proposed ordinance meant to curb camping on the lot, but the proposal was dropped during a meeting attended by more than 100 people.

“The idea is basically a short-term, broad reaching group of people who would hold public meetings, gather information, conduct interviews and bring forth a set of recommendations,” Liot Hill said in an audio recording of Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.

But some councilors saw that mission as too broad for the city to lead.

“I think a task force is designed — by its very nature and by our intent — to be something that deals with a very specific problem, in a very specific way, over a very specific period of time,” Councilor Timothy McNamara said in the recording, which was posted on the city’s website.

He worried the group would get entangled in a “free-ranging discussion that could take years,” rather than address immediate problems.

“I have always seen the city’s role here not as a leader of this group (or) task force, but as a facilitator,” he said.

The council heard from many local organizations last month who opposed an ordinance that would have curbed homeless camping, McNamara said, and those groups should spearhead efforts on a regional level.

Councilors Bruce Bronner and Bill Finn agreed.

“My first point is the size of the group. It’s unwieldy,” Finn said in the audio recording. “There will be people who cross purposes and, I think, the end result will be unsatisfying to everybody.”

Sara Kobylenski, executive director of the Upper Valley Haven, also agreed that the task force should focus on specific, pressing problems, such as homeless camping in the lot behind Hannaford. She told the council there already are groups working on a national and state level to find solutions to homelessness.

Welsch, who helped craft the task force proposal, became frustrated during the meetingas council members debated the composition of the group, according to the recording. She shared stories of people being harassed at the city-owned lot and said immediate action needs to be taken.

“We need something to happen tomorrow to protect those people,” she said. “All of this splicing of hairsis perfectly well, but let’s get the thing done because it’s everybody’s responsibility.”

“If I hear one more disgusting conversation about who should be here, who should be there ...” Welsch continued before being called out of order by Mayor Georgia Tuttle.

“We are trying to be constructive here. It is late and we’re tired,” Tuttle replied.

After the meeting adjourned, the city’s microphones stayed on and continued to record a conversation in which Welsch expressed frustration with the council’s changes to the task force. The full meeting recording was uploaded to the city’s website on Thursday morning.

“Nobody helped me do this except for Karen (Liot) Hill. Nobody,” Welsch said. “I asked and they told me they couldn’t do it, so I did it and what I get is (expletive) comments.”

On Thursday, Welsch said she thought the microphones were turned off when the comments were made in what she considered a private conservation. She said the task force’s goals are much more important than any arguments or disagreements she might have with another council member.

Welsch has submitted a request to be appointed a member of the task force.

But if residents feel her comments after the meeting might jeopardize the task force’s objectivity, she’ll offer to recuse herself.

Addressing the changes to the task force, Welsch said she felt the council misunderstood her proposal. Written into the proposal was language that directed the group to establish smaller committees responsible for individual topics. She worried council members overlooked that provision in Wednesday’s deliberations.

When the city decided to begin creating task forces a few years ago, the goal was to create groups with tightly defined missions within a small amount of time, Tuttle said on Thursday.

She said the council’s actions on the task force matched that goal while allowing local groups the ability to start discussions on larger issues impacting homelessness in the region.

“They can really do that better and more effective than us,” Tuttle said.

City councilors have until today to email Maville, the interim city manager, if they’re interested in serving on the task force. A list will be provided to Tuttle, who will appoint members.

The group will then set its first meeting date and is expected to produce a report in late October.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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