Op-Ed: We share opportunity and hardship

WHEN I BEGAN my second term as Manchester’s mayor in January 2020, I was excited to build on the progress we made during my first term — helping our residents lead better lives with stronger schools, a safer community, good jobs, and a growing economy.

When the pandemic hit, our progress was interrupted, and we focused our efforts on keeping our residents safe, students supported, and businesses open.

As mayor, I worked to ensure our community had the support it needed. We tackled challenges in new ways — transitioning city services online while eliminating fees, offering free public transportation, and providing curbside service at the library. We created a housing assistance program to help renters and homeowners, providing thousands of dollars in assistance to Manchester families.

I worked with small businesses, hearing firsthand how they were struggling to make ends meet. We established loan and grant programs to help businesses across the city, while saving and growing jobs. In addition, we streamlined the permitting process and expanded outdoor dining for our restaurants, helping our local businesses stay afloat.

We took decisive action to ensure our students, staff and families were supported. Only three days after schools went to remote learning, we began delivering meals to students and later established Fuel our Families, delivering more than 185,000 meals. In order to optimize remote learning, the district purchased and distributed more than 6,000 Chromebooks, increased internet bandwidth at schools, and invested heavily in technology.

As the mother of a Central High School student, I saw the struggles that came with remote learning. Knowing we wanted to get back to in-person learning as soon as possible, the school district developed a robust plan — updating air filtration systems, increasing cleaning services, hosting COVID testing for staff, and vaccinating more than 1,400 employees. In addition, we hosted voluntary vaccinations for students over 16 years old and are currently planning vaccinations for students 12 to 15 years old. Today, I’m pleased our schools are open for full-time, in-person learning, while also providing remote learning for students who request it.

With the tremendous team at Manchester Health Department, we worked to provide equitable care for residents. We created the COVID-19 Hotline, distributed PPE, and established testing sites. We’re now providing vaccinations to our most vulnerable, including residents of public housing and those who are houseless.

We’ve worked diligently to keep our community safe while addressing the substance misuse crisis. Thanks to the leadership of the police and fire departments, in 2020 we saw a decrease in crime for the fifth year in a row, a 28% decrease in opioid overdoses, and a 43% decrease in opioid deaths.

Throughout our state, we’re grappling with issues associated with affordable housing and homelessness, exacerbated by COVID-19. Social distancing forced Families in Transition to significantly decrease shelter capacity from 138 to 68 beds, and as a result, houseless individuals moved outside. Outreach teams visit encampments daily to provide medical, mental health, and housing services. And during the winter months, the city partnered with FIT and 1269 Cafe to open temporary emergency shelter beds.

I’m partnering with every mayor in New Hampshire — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — who acknowledged homelessness is a statewide problem, and the number-one issue facing their community. Together, we requested the governor update New Hampshire’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness from 2006. As a result, he established the Council on Housing Stability and their updated plan is due in June. In the meantime, we used federal funds and hired a director of homelessness initiatives to strengthen the collaboration and communication between service providers, departments, DHHS, faith-based organizations, as well as residents and businesses.

Despite the unprecedented challenges in 2020, Manchester is moving forward. New businesses are opening, the airport is seeing more passengers and we’re optimistic about rail coming to Manchester. For the second year in a row, the Queen City was named the hottest real estate market in the country. We’ve paved and repaired 120 miles of roads over the last three years and more than 40 miles will be addressed in fiscal year 2022. We’re improving our parks and public spaces, adding a splash pad at Sheehan-Basquil Park, a half pipe and basketball court at Rock Rimmon, pickleball courts and lights at Prout Park, and reconstructing the Mill Girl stairs.

Over the last three years, we have confronted opportunity and hardship together. When COVID-19 hit, our progress was disrupted, but it didn’t stop. Today, Manchester is ready to continue its growth, thanks in large part to the resiliency of Queen City residents. I’m running for mayor to ensure our city fully recovers from this pandemic and builds on our progress. It’s an honor to lead this city, and I ask for your continued support to serve another term as mayor.

Joyce Craig for Manchester
P.O. Box 3893
Manchester, NH 03105