SALEM — When Selectman Patrick Hargreaves encountered a homeless man during the snowstorm last week, he became concerned the town wasn’t doing enough to help.
Hargreaves called the Fire Department to see if the man could be helped, but was told he would have to taken to a shelter in Lawrence, Haverhill or Nashua. He ended up paying for the man to stay the night at the Holiday Inn.
Hargreaves told fellow selectmen at their meeting Monday that Salem needs to do more to help the homeless during emergency situations.
He said he was surprised the town didn’t have a shelter to accommodate the man, whom he met while getting a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. The two-day storm last week dumped 8 inches of snow in Salem and brought freezing cold.
“It was below zero that night,” Hargreaves said. “This particular person had no place to go.”
Hargreaves said it’s often impossible for homeless people to get to a shelter that’s miles away.
“Well, it’s kind of hard for a homeless person to go to Lawrence, Haverhill or Nashua if you don’t have a car,” he said.
Hargreaves asked that cots be set up at Town Hall, the Ingram Senior Center, or the police and fire stations if a shelter were not available in town, but was told by Town Manager Keith Hickey that may not be possible.
“The challenge we have is an appropriate location,” Hickey said. “I have a bit of a concern housing somebody in the fire station or police department.”
Melanie Nesheim, board president for Family Promise of Greater Rockingham County, has said a survey of area school districts revealed there are more than 150 homeless families in Southern New Hampshire. There are also many homeless adults living outside on their own, she said.
Her nonprofit organization has formed a network of approximately a dozen shelters operated by churches throughout the county. Family Promise also operates a day center for homeless families in Derry.
The Western Rockingham Coalition of Care will meet at Triumphant Cross Church in Salem on Wednesday to speak about homelessness and related concerns. The group will also discuss the annual Point in Time Count of homeless residents in New Hampshire to be conducted Jan. 29.
Hickey told selectmen he has sympathy for any homeless person forced to live outside in the cold, but the cost of accommodating them becomes a factor.
“We can talk about opening some place, but it’s going to entail staffing and costs incurred,” he said. “I’m not trying to sound heartless, but it comes at a cost.”
During past major storms, the American Red Cross has stepped in to help Salem residents, Hickey said.
Last year, they stayed in Nashua, he said. During the ice storm in 2008, displaced residents slept on cots at Salem High School, Hargreaves said yesterday.
But there was no local shelter during the storm last week, Hargreaves said. He and other selectmen, including James Keller and Chairman Everett McBride Jr., said the board needed a formal plan for dealing with such circumstances.
“I think we need a protocol which has parameters and criteria for opening a shelter,” Keller said.
Selectmen are expected to discuss the matter further. But Hargreaves said yesterday he has since learned the town does have a formal plan to help those needing shelter — the board just didn’t realize it.
The plan calls for the town’s human services administrator to be contacted during normal business owners. Otherwise, local police will help make arrangements for those needing help at one of six out-of-town shelters or three local motels — Manor Motel, Park View Inn or Red Roof Inn.
Hargreaves said he was relieved to learn Salem did have an emergency plan and that more of an effort will be made to make sure town officials and employees know how to implement it.