KEENE — A community forum tonight will allow residents to vent and ask questions of city officials about the opioid crisis and increasingly aggressive panhandlers, Keene City Councilor Randy Filiault said Monday.
Filiault said he pushed for the forum after he saw a Facebook post by Texicina Mari Valentine in July. Along with a grainy photo of two men on a park bench near a playground in downtown Keene, she wrote, “Thank you Keene Nh for making it so i cant even take my son to the park without seeing nasty people do drugs and have people beg me for money and make me feel super unsafe and uncomfortable.
The guy hunched over had a needle sticking out of his arm. The guy next to him took it out and begged me for money when i said No he kept starring at me”
Posted July 22, the post has since been shared 651 times as of today. Valentine told NH1 in July that she has been visiting the park since she was a child and often takes her son there now.
“That particular photo for me was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it’s something we had been leading up to anyway,” Filiault said Monday.
Filiault reached out directly to Keene mayor Kendall Lane and the community forum was organized.
The opioid crisis has hit communities across the country and has certainly hit Keene hard, but what has Keene residents upset is how the use of drugs has moved out into the open and how panhandling in the city has increase, Filiault said.
“It’s just becoming more brazen. I think that’s what bothering people more is just how brazen it is,” he said.
Keene Police Chief Steven Russo said when panhandling increased in recent years the city did not put panhandling laws into place because it is a violation of free speech, something many municipalities have recently learned through the court.
“There has definitely been an increase in the panhandling, but it’s a complicated issue,” Russo said. “There’s literally there’s nothing we can do, it’s a first amendment right.”
Russo said he plans to be at the forum to listen and answer questions.
Kendall will lead the forum and city officials will be there, but they will be there to listen to residents and answer questions.
The forum is set to begin at 6 p.m. and will be in the high school auditorium.