Senior Center to Be Turned Into Emergency Homeless Shelter

Manchester Senior Services Department Apparently Moribund During COVID Pandemic

MANCHESTER, NH — The Cashin Senior Activity Center on Manchester’s West Side reportedly will be turned into an emergency shelter to house 40 homeless individuals, according to city officials. The City of Manchester already has bought cots for an emergency shelter to be situated in a city-owned building, according to Manchesterinklink.

The City also is applying for a grant to finance the transformation of the facility created with half-a-million dollars of privately raised money into a homeless shelter.

Since the Senior Center is across the street from Manchester West High School, there may be a backlash against locating homeless people, many of whom suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse problems, in an area with schoolchildren. The Senior Center also is located near the Burns Senior Housing Project in Granite Square.

Earlier efforts to cope with the homeless/substance abuse crisis resulted in the housing of homeless people in public housing buildings that were created to serve senior citizens. Drug addiction is now considered a disability, and senior housing was opened up to non-seniors with disabilities in the 1980s, by the federal government.

The presence of younger substance abusers in senior housing has caused many problems, and left many senior residents fearful. Bringing homeless substance abusers into Granite Square may exacerbate the problem, as the two communities — disabled substance abusers in public housing and homeless substance abusers at the emergency shelter— interact.

Granite Square also features a store selling cannabidiod (CBD) products.

The presence of the Catholic Medical Center and its Emergency Room located several blocks from the Senior Center may encourage drug abuse, as opioid users have been known to shoot up in public areas such as the City Library, where they can receive immediate medical attention should they overdose.

Already an area riddled by crime and drug trafficking, the addition of homeless substance abusers may destabilize the Ward 10’s Squog neighborhood centered around Granite Square and La petite Canada (“Little Canada”) in Ward 11.

The Republicans in the city and state have used the homeless problem and the substance abuse crisis for political capital, as can be seen in Governor Chris Sununu’s behavior towards Manchester and other cities. With the Free State Project targeting Ward 11 for a political takeover, and City GOP Chair and Free Stater being from Ward 11, a backlash against an emergency shelter at the Senior Center likely may cost Ward 11 Alderman Norm Gamache his seat.

Senior Services Department

The Senior Activity Center has not hosted any activities since January 2020. For many months, the calendar on its page on the City of Manchester website was not updated. Last month, it began listing daily weekly activities for October, but inquiries failed to yield any substantive information on what activities the Senior Center is offering, or how.

Crime statistics reveal the Senior Center is located in one of the “Most Dangerous” neighborhoods

Apparently, the Senior Commission that oversees the Cashin Senior Activity Center has not met since January 2020, as there are no posted minutes of Commission meetings. This is not unusual for the Senior Comission, which operated for four years under Senior Services Director Gail Senno without taking and posting minutes of Senior Commission meetings, as is required by state law.

When this reporter inquired of the City Clerk’s Office why this was so, he was told that the Senior Services Department was “new” and was working things out, although Gail Senno has been appointed Senior Services Director four years earlier. This reporter also was told that the Senior Services Department was not a city department such as those established under the City Charter, and accountable to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, but reported to the Office of the Mayor.

The City Charter actually makes no such distinctions.

Surprisingly, the Senior Services Commission apparently reports to no committee or subcommittee of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Despite the COVID 19 pandemic that has ravaged the senior citizen community in — New Hampshire ranks #1 amongst the states in senior deaths from the coronavirus, and #1 in Nursing Home deaths — Senior Commission Director Gail Senno has not appeared before the BMA or any of its committees or subcommittees since May 2019.

Under Senno’s leadership, the annual golfing tournament fundraiser was terminated, as she did not want to handle the money raised by the event.

There have been reports from the city that the employees of the Senior Services Department/Senior Activity Center have been “checking up” on seniors, but there is no searchable record that this actually is happening, or of seniors are receiving any services at all. Senior Services Director Gail Senno has been notably absent in any public debate over seniors in the time of the COVID pandemic.

Perhaps with the Senior Services Department and the Senior Activity Center having become moribund, the City feels that the space can be put to better use.

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