William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 24 Jul 2005 19:59:34 -0400

Shelter in a cycle of crime

By Elizabeth Dinan

In the past year, Portsmouth police arrested 42 residents of the Cross Roads
House homeless shelter or an average of 3.5 a month.
The local police department also issued 36 no-trespass orders to residents
at the 600 Lafayette Road shelter, six barment letters for the wooded area
behind it, and even more no-trespass orders for the woods behind Margaritas
restaurant, an area known as "Tent City" for its homeless encampments. A
considerable amount of police paperwork was also served to the address.
Meanwhile, beat officers move some of the transient and homeless population
off park benches, from railroads tracks, out of neighboring back yards and,
as was the case recently, from a historic cemetery.
And occasionally, background checks on arrested Cross Roads House residents
turn up serious and violent criminal histories.
Local police say they strive to be helpful and compassionate. The shelterís
director said poverty and crime are linked.
Criminal histories
The most recent example of a shelter residentís criminal history unfolding
came Tuesday when Richard Allen Smith, 39, was arrested during a roundup of
people drinking in the North Cemetery off Maplewood Avenue and his record
revealed a conviction for aggravated assault with a weapon. His criminal
history also came with a warning to arresting officers about his "violent
That same Tuesday, now-barred Cross Roads House resident Morgan Murphy, 43,
was in Portsmouth District Court pleading guilty to two counts of assault
for spitting on a woman, grabbing her and throwing her to the ground. Murphy
was also charged with spitting on another man and two additional assault
charges against him were dismissed.
Murphy left the court with one year of probation and orders to stay away
from Cross Roads House and Store 24, the latter where the assaults occurred.
Also in the Portsmouth court Tuesday were a pair of shelter residents who
pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing and minor drug charges following
their Memorial Day arrest at the so-called Tent City.
Just a week earlier, a Cross Roads resident was sent to jail for five months
for assaulting a pair of police officers who answered a call from the
shelter asking for help removing him for disruptive behavior.
That resident, Norman Q. Knight, 41, also pleaded guilty to resisting arrest
and criminal trespassing and his prior criminal history revealed convictions
in several states on charges including highway robbery and the use of a
firearm in the commission of a felony.
Knight told Portsmouth District Court Judge Sharon DeVries heíd lived at
Cross Roads House on and off for the past five years.
The same evening Knight was arrested, June 18, Cross Roads resident Richard
Neil Moore, age unknown, was arrested for driving while intoxicated after
police received a tip from a Lafayette Road restaurant employee whoíd
refused Knight service because of his apparent drunkenness. Police found him
in the parking lot with the engine running and his hand on the gear shift
ready to drive away.
And a week before that, Cross Roads resident Michael Gagnon, 27, was
arrested on five counts of forgery, three counts of theft by unauthorized
taking and a count each of lost or mislaid property and identity fraud. His
victims are alleged to be five different people who are close to him.
Expert opinions
Police acknowledge the criminal facts surrounding Cross Roads House, while
offering sympathy for its mission.
"Part of our officersí training is to have compassion for people in these
circumstances, even though the officers may get injured doing their duty. It
comes with the territory," said Portsmouth Police Capt. Len DiSesa. "Cross
Roads does dominate a large piece of our officersí time. But our feeling has
been that even though the residents at Cross Roads are a drain on our
resources, at least we know where they are."
Police Commissioner John "Jack" Kelly was quoted saying there are more
police calls to Cross Roads House than any other address in the city.
"I donít know if statistically thatís true, but itís close," said DiSesa.
"We havenít completely compiled (fiscal year) í05 statistics yet, but I donít
anticipate a downturn."
Arrest statistics for Cross Roads House residents from 2003 and 2004 show
the numbers for simple assault up 50 percent, for criminal trespass up 600
percent, and arrests for "other" offenses up 36 percent. The volume of legal
paperwork served to the shelter jumped 36 percent from 2003 to 2004.
The police data also proves Cross Roads House residents are arrested for
being both wanted and unwanted. The number of wanted persons arrests
increased 5 percent from 2003 and 2004 and arrests for unwanted persons
"You look and see a lot of calls, but on the other hand you have to look at
the number of people who live there," Portsmouth Police Chief Michael
Magnant said. "And we have told them to call. Itís the same as a bar
establishment that might be afraid to call because they think they get on
some black list. We say call us on the early end. And to some extent, I
think (Cross Roads) has done that."
Magnant said "it might be helpful" if Cross Roads was able to check the
criminal histories of potential residents prior to their moving into the
shelter, but said prospective residents have to give approval, something he
learned while working with the cityís public housing complexes.
"You canít brand people with a scarlet letter that they have violent
tendencies," the chief said. "And if Cross Roads says youíre not accepted,
where do they go?"
Cross Roads House Director Chris Sterndale responded to the Heraldís request
for comment with a written statement.
"Over 2,000 different people have stayed at Cross Roads in the last four
years. Ours is the closest thing some have to a permanent address and many
use it to obtain an ID," he wrote. "Some continue to use this address after
they leave. For example, under one of your "shelter resident arrested"
headlines this week was the story of someone who had not been here in two
Sterndaleís statement continues that some residents "do get into trouble,"
adding itís common for the population served by Cross Roads House.
"The correlation between poverty and crime is well known," he wrote. "Mental
health and substance-abuse problems are often involved - each of those
affect about a third of our residents."
The shelter director also praised police for their cooperation and
assistance, adding everyone checking into the shelter is asked to disclose
his or her criminal history and the shelter uses this information "to help
the individual find appropriate employment, housing and services."
Chief Magnant said his view of the homeless shelter has changed over the
"At one point in my career, I thought Cross Roads was the root of the
problem," Magnant said. "But they provide a valuable service."

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