Homeless when it's below zero – Carey House hits capacity while Belknap House nears January opening

12-16 homeless Belknap House

Belknap House at 200 Court St., shown here during Thursday's blustery cold snap, is expected to open by the end of January. This family-oriented cold-weather shelter will cope with specific needs. In one case, a boy was living in his truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot and staying there overnight while family was in the process of getting help, recalled Ginger Wells-Kay, who handles publicity for the Belknap House campaign. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)



LACONIA — A 20-below-zero wind chill howling into the weekend put pressure on Laconia's homeless shelter and the people trying to fend for themselves without housing.
"It's that combination of winds and maybe some snow that makes it particularly hazardous if somebody were to be stranded outdoors," said Justin Arnott, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, noting winds blowing at 30 mph in Laconia that resulted in a zero-degree wind chill Thursday afternoon and forecasts for a 20-below wind chill overnight into Friday.
Laconia Police Capt. Matt Canfield said patrol officers make a point of checking on homeless people when temperatures hover near or below zero.
"We do keep an eye on it," he said. "Patrol officers have contact with a lot of the homeless individuals on a regular basis."
The police legally cannot compel a homeless person to escape the elements, "as long as there are no mental health issues where they're a danger to themselves or others," Canfield said. But services are made available.
A fairly good number of homeless people will "couch surf," the term for finding impromptu temporary lodgings with friends or family, but Canfield counted "another several dozen who are truly homeless who have nowhere else to go."
All efforts are made to help those exposed to the brutal cold.
"If they need a place to stay, we will find different places for them to go even if it's the lobby of the police station," Canfield said.
The Carey House, located at 177 Union Ave., is the city's sole homeless shelter and tends to fill up during the cold months. Capt. Scott McNeil and his wife, Nora, are commanding officers of the Salvation Army in Laconia and see the demand first hand as operators of the shelter.
Scott McNeil said Thursday, "Our shelter, the Carey House, is full, but that changes on almost a daily basis. For the last several weeks, it's been solid, full." With a 33-bed capacity, the Carey House offers a family wing, two male wings and a female wing.
The Carey House last week opened its fourth family room, which can accommodate a small family of three, the Salvation Army reported. Upon its opening on Dec. 15, the room was instantly occupied, the Salvation Army reported.
Mountain View Church members painted the room, and Jack Robinson and Phil Huckins volunteered their time and skills, according to a press release from Amanda Lewis, shelter director.
As an emergency shelter, the Carey House is a "dry" shelter, meaning no alcohol or drugs are permitted. McNeil said shelter operators aim for a maximum stay of three months.
"We've had people come from northern New Hampshire, we've had people come from New York," McNeil said, and turnover rarely results in long-term vacancies — occupancy cycles so quickly "we barely have the room prepared and someone is on the phone saying, 'Do you have a spot?'"
Cold weather, as one would expect, heightens demand.

"Last year was actually quite different because it stayed relatively warm," McNeil said of last winter.
"I'm just thankful that we have such great support throughout the community," McNeil said, highlighting New Hampshire 2-1-1, an initiative of the Granite United Way. New Hampshire 2-1-1 provides a central information source (via the telephone number 2-1-1) for those experiencing or facing homelessness and other health and human service crises.
"If we don't have room, then we suggest 2-1-1," McNeil said.
A second homeless shelter is poised to open next month. A group is raising money to acquire and open a shelter called Belknap House at 200 Court St., specifically for families during the cold winter months.
"We decided the best thing to do was have a cold-weather shelter, and in the summer it's going to be a hostel," said Ginger Wells-Kay, who handles publicity for the Belknap House campaign.
Belknap House is expected to open by the end of January, she said.
"We had quite a problem with asbestos and lead paint, so the more they removed, the more they found, so instead of taking a month, it took three months," Wells-Kay said of the nearly completed renovations.
The programming at Belknap House will focus on family strength, since homelessness often splits up families.

"It's a chance to break the cycle, working with kids," Wells-Kay said.
The dynamics for families can be quite different. They typically can't stay in campgrounds when it's cold; teens may live out of their vehicles, while smaller children who can't stay in cars may be thrust on relatives or friends for a place to stay, Wells-Kay said.
And families can find it harder to couch surf, as friends will fear repercussions.

"If you have too many people coming into your apartment and the landlord kicks you out, then you could be homeless yourself," Wells-Kay said.
McNeil said Belknap House will relieve pressure on Carey House and its family units, which tend to fill quickly.
Organizers of the Belknap House are trying to raise $25,000 through their annual Open the Doors appeal, running now through the first week of January. For details, visit https://www.facebook.com/belknaphouse or www.belknaphouse.org.
On Wednesday, Dec. 28, at 6 p.m., Belknap House will be conducting its second orientation session for interested shelter assistant volunteers, 18 and older. Those interested in this position should sign up at http://signup.com/go/rFsb7v.
For information about the Laconia Salvation Army, or the Carey House, and how to support its efforts, call 528-8086.
For more about New Hampshire 2-1-1, visit http://www.211nh.org.

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Mistrial in Gilford rape case


LACONIA — A Gilford man's rape trial ended in a mistrial Tuesday after the jury foreman told the Belknap County Superior Court judge that they could not come to a unanimous decision.

The jury had deliberated for nearly two days after closing arguments Monday morning as to whether or not Carroll Thompson, 45, of raped his girlfriend as she was trying to leave his home in January of 2016.

Back in court Wednesday, Judge James O'Neill reduced Thompson's bail conditions from $25,000 cash only to $10,000 personal recognizance bail. Other conditions of his bail remain the same and include no contact with the alleged victim, no unprescribed drugs or alcohol, no guns or weapons, and no leaving the state of New Hampshire.

Thompson also faces eight counts of breach of bail after Laconia Police alleged he called the alleged victim eight times from the Belknap County House of Corrections while he was awaiting trial.

The state, as represented by prosecutor Adam Wood, asked that Thompson's bail remain at $25,000 cash only because the case against him is not over and he is still charged with two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault.

Wood cited his previous record, which includes a conviction for simple assault, and the eight alleged bail violations as reasons for continuing to hold him.

Thompson's public defender Eric Wolpin told the court that to continue to hold Thompson in jail after 11 of 12 jurors had decided to acquit him was "disheartening, disturbing and violates every principal of justice the community has."

Wolpin said that bail on the other charges were a different case and not the subject of that specific argument. Thompson has spent the past 10 months in jail while awaiting trial as he was unable to post the $25,000 cash needed to free himself.

Wolpin said the state's case was well-prepared and argued by the county's senior prosecutor, Carley Ahern, and 11 of 12 people still weren't convinced of his guilt.

"It's a shock to the conscious to continue to incarcerate him," Wolpin said.

The purpose of bail is to ensure there is no danger to the community and to make sure the person charged with a crime appears at trial. Bail cannot be used as punishment, according to state and federal law.

Wolpin said that Thompson's family was there to take him home, said he wasn't going anywhere and agrees to all of the other conditions, including no contact with the alleged victim.

Wolpin said that the eight calls made to her from jail were collect calls and she did not have to accept them.

"Saying she accepted the calls is the worst kind of victim blame," said Wood in rebuttal, maintaining his request for $25,000 cash-only bail "There was no acquittal. He still stands charged."

Wolpin replied that the woman is still an alleged victim and Thompson is still an innocent man.

The next decision to be made is whether the state will retry Thompson and, if so, on what charges. According to court rules, neither the defense nor the prosecution attorneys can reach out to any of the jurors who heard the case for 30 days. Jurors are under no obligation to speak to either side.

As of Wednesday at 6 p.m., Thompson remained in the Belknap County House of Corrections.

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Case dismissed - Judge ends lawsuit against county alleging negligent supervision of former deputy sheriff Blanchette


LACONIA — A lawsuit brought against Belknap County by a former inmate of the Belknap County House of Corrections who claimed that the county failed to properly supervise former Belknap County Deputy Sheriff Justin Blanchette, resulting in intentionally inflicted emotional distress, has been dismissed by a judge in Merrimack County Superior Court.
The plaintiff, referred to as Jane Doe to shield her identity, alleges that in 2013, Blanchette allowed her and her fiancée to have sex while he was transporting at least one of them to court as an inmate, if he could watch them do so. Doe had maintained that the county was negligent in its supervision of Blanchette.
During an Oct. 28 hearing in Merrimack County Superior Court, attorney Corey Belobrow of Concord, argued that the case should be thrown out as Doe failed to identify a policy, custom or procedure as the moving force for the acts alleged.
He maintained that the county can't be held liable for the alleged harm, since it did not act intentionally toward her, and Blanchette's purported conduct was not within the scope of his employment, so the county, as his employer, is not responsible.
Doe's lawyer, Richard Lehmann of Concord, had asked the judge to allow the complaint to be amended, as he was still working to ferret out the facts of the case. That motion was also denied.
In arguing for dismissal, Belobrow maintained that Belknap County is shielded by discretionary function immunity. The New Hampshire Supreme Court has held that when the particular conduct that caused injury is characterized by a high degree of official judgment or discretion in making policy decisions involving the consideration of competing economic, social and political factors, governmental entities should remain immune from liability.
In his ruling, Judge Richard B. McNamara cited a 1999 New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling in the Hacking versus the Town of Belmont case which said that certain "essential fundamental activities of government must remain free from tort liability so that our government can govern" and upheld the discretionary function immunity.

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