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Lebanon Task Force Hopes to Aid Homeless

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/3/2016 11:24:45 PM
Modified: 7/3/2016 11:24:46 PM

Lebanon — The City Council is expected to take up the creation of a homeless task force when it meets on Wednesday night.

The group, called The Coalition to End Homelessness, will be made up of Council members, city staffers, homeless representatives, nonprofit agencies and officials from neighboring towns, according to draft documents on the city’s website.

“This really is a next step after the public hearing and large outpouring of concern and interest in working on a solution to homelessness,” said City Council member Karen Liot Hill, who drafted the task force proposal with council member Sarah Welsch.

The city’s homeless population became a heated topic last month, when city officials proposed a camping ordinance that some said would criminalize the homeless living in a city-owned lot near the Hannaford supermarket on Route 12A. City councilors decided to drop the measure during a meeting attended by more than 100 opponents, agreeing to further investigate solutions.

“We hope that this is a good place to start this discussion,” Liot Hill said of the task force.

Under her proposal, the task force will hold at least two public forums where people can provide input on homelessness. The group will also be expected to produce a report in late October.

Liot Hill said the short turnaround is meant to build on the momentum of local groups already galvanized toward helping the homeless. It also provides the city with ideas of how it can help before the harsh winter months set in.

“I’m partially interested in looking for some short-term solutions as well as starting a longer-term discussion,” said Liot Hill, who is open to serving on the task force.

The problem they’ll be facing is manageable, she said. Unlike large cities with big populations of homeless people, Liot Hill said, the task force will be looking to help a much smaller group of people in the Lebanon area.

The task force will also provide city officials and stakeholders with a view of what homeless people are facing, said Bev McKinley, who founded Silent Warriors, a group that helps homeless people in the Upper Valley.

The group is listed in draft documents as having a seat on the future task force.

“It’s a situation where we all need to come together. They are our neighbors and we need to come together and support them,” McKinley said.

She plans to advocate for creating a long-term camping location for the homeless with a portable toilet, water and places to dispose of trash. McKinley said the Hannaford lot would be a desirable spot with its access to nearby businesses and public transportation.

“We have to provide for them. They’re human beings,” McKinley said.

Anne Duncan Cooley, executive director of the Upper Valley Housing Coalition, said she’s not yet sure how her organization will help find solutions to homelessness.

Duncan Cooley said the group is willing to provide information and resources to make members aware of shortfalls in the region’s housing market.

Housing advocates have long hoped to create more units in the Lebanon area, where wait lists for subsidized housing can span years.

Homeless people living off of Route 12A need the task force to both find a long-term housing solution and short-term help, Mike Lesperance said.

Lesperance, 58, became homeless three years ago after spending his savings on a family emergency and seeing his locksmith business hit hard times. He now lives at the Hannaford lot with his rescued pit bull Shea.

“She’s the friendliest pit bull I’ve ever seen,” Lesperance said. “She loves everybody, but she’s just a little aggressive with her ‘I like you.’ ”

Bouncing from place to place as they search for housing has taken its toll, both on Lesperance and Shea. Whenever the two are forced to move, Shea gets upset and confused as she acclimates to new surroundings.

“Me and Shea want housing. Period. End of story,” he said. “We want something so Shea has her own yard (and) she can actually settle into something.”

Lesperance said the two also want to see more outreach. They’ve spoken with social workers at the lot before but haven’t actually been offered help.

“If I don’t complain I guess no one’s going to come by and ask anything,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to do that. We’re all in this lot. We all should count for something.”

The Lebanon City Council is scheduled to meet and discuss the task force at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in City Hall.

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




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