MANCHESTER — The infamous "tent city" in a patch of woods off Broad Street has been cleared of the hard-drinking, homeless people who lived there, but a similar encampment has sprung up a short distance away on town-owned land.
The once thickly wooded parcel behind the Nutmeg State Federal Credit Union and Wendy's restaurant is now a field of weeds. Credit union spokeswoman Lisa Asadourian said trees were cleared and signs posted several months ago after a fire in the woods.
"Police and fire officials advised us to clear it out," Asadourian said. "It just became dangerous."
The new tent site is to the south, on the other side of Broad Street between the Cheney Rail Trail and a chain link fence behind the Save-A-Lot supermarket plaza. Six people were at the site Thursday afternoon. Several tents and tarpaulin shelters lined a narrow strip of relatively flat ground at the base of the old railway bank.
General Manager Scott Shanley said town officials are concerned with the wellbeing of the tent site's residents and will try to find housing for them, but they cannot stay.
Their camp is near a town-contracted construction site that is part of the ongoing revitalization of the Broad Street commercial district.
Excavation of the railway embankment has started, and the plan is to install a new archway bridge connecting Center Springs Park to Broad Street by the end of the construction season, Public Works Director Mark Carlino said. The project also includes installation of a culvert and reopening Edgerton Street to traffic.
The homeless campers say they're aware of the encroaching project. For now, however, they still have their privacy. Lyndsey Sprague, 32, and Adam Sawallich, 29, live together in a neatly arranged tent. They said they've been camping at the site for about two months. On the ground in front of the tent was a couch that Adam found and several makeshift tables adorned with candles and flower pots.
Sawallich and Sprague both say they lost their jobs. They lived in a car for a while, but with no money, found themselves outdoors. They say they are searching for work and hope to earn enough to rent an apartment. They get by on charity now, including a small amount of money that Sawallich says his mother gives him every now and then.
Still, the two say they are happy and in love. Every morning when he gets up, Sawallich said, he looks at Sprague "and she puts a smile on my face." They said they have stopped using drugs and now only drink beer. Sprague was sipping from a can of beer Thursday afternoon. A bleary-eyed man who would give only his first name as Mitch said he ended up in at the tent site after he lost his job and his home.
People who lived in the old site told similar stories of loss. For years, the patch of woods was a hangout and home for teenage partiers, chronic boozers and rootless wanderers. Police and medics frequently responded to fights, drunk and disorderly complaints and other disturbances and injuries there.
As they did at the former site, outreach workers stop by regularly to check on people at the new camp. Manchester Area Conference of Churches Charities runs a homeless shelter in town, but drinkers are not allowed.
Every time MACC outreach worker Phil McNally goes to the camp, he offers people a chance for housing and treatment, MACC Executive Director Beth Stafford said, "but they don't want to give up their lifestyle."