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Granite State Rumblings: Combating Homelessness

Image by Pedro Ribeiro Simões on FLICKR CC

Image by Pedro Ribeiro Simões on FLICKR CC

“If they don’t get sheltered, some of them will die.”

These were the words spoken by my doctor yesterday at my annual check-up. We were talking about the impending blizzard and some of his patients who are homeless. The pain on his face as he said that sentence was hard to see.

As I write, the wind driven snow is piling up outside of my kitchen window. I am warm, dry, and comfy and I have the generator ready to go should the need arise. But my doctor’s words are running through my mind.  “If they don’t get sheltered, some of them will die.”

And so I begin this newsletter and I wonder. How many homeless families and individuals are there in the state? Have they found shelter? Where will they go? Many of the businesses that could provide shelter are closed because of the storm – even the Dunkin Donuts is closed. The schools are locked up tight and the library’s shuttered. With all of the media reporting on the storm I have heard nothing about the homeless. Have you?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to conduct sheltered counts of people living in emergency shelter or transitional housing and unsheltered counts of people living in a place unfit for human habitation (such as in an abandoned building or in a park) biennially. This is known as the Point-in-Time Count.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, January 28th) the count to identify homeless people in New Hampshire will be conducted. The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Homeless and Housing Services (BHHS), together with service providers who serve homeless individuals and families, will identify the number of sheltered and unsheltered persons within a 24-hour period.

These counts are critical for homelessness providers, researchers, funders, and advocates, as they are the only source of national data on the homeless population. But, counting unsheltered homeless people is a daunting task.

Not only are many unsheltered homeless people hard to find, but members of some homeless subpopulations, like homeless youth and LGBTQ individuals, congregate in different areas than larger populations and may try to avoid being identified as homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Locating them requires different strategies. And in New Hampshire that task falls on the combined efforts of the three local homeless Continuums of Care (Nashua, Manchester and the “Balance of State”) along with the NH Coalition to End Homelessness.

The most recently available state data on homelessness comes from the January 2014 State of New Hampshire Official Point-In-Time Count. Data from the 2014 count show that 1,635 people experienced homelessness in New Hampshire on a given night.

Significant findings from the 2014 count include:

  • Families with children comprise 43 percent of the overall homeless population (a total of 704 people, composing 258 households).
  • Slightly more than a third of the single adult homeless population is considered chronically homeless (341 people).
  • Veterans comprise 11 percent of New Hampshire’s homeless population (183 people).

Source: The State of Homelessness in New Hampshire 2014, NHCEH

Although many people still perceive homelessness to be a problem primarily among single men, and to a lesser extent single women, homelessness among families is a growing concern in many communities. Family homelessness in New Hampshire increased sharply in the years following the most recent economic recession. In recent years, however, the state has seen gradual decreases in the number of families living in shelters or on the streets on the day of the Point-in-Time Count.

The state’s population of homeless people in families decreased by 10 percent from 779 persons in 2012 to 704 persons in 2014. Seven counties saw decreases in family homelessness. However, Strafford County, where I live and my doctor has his practice, saw a 47 percent increase in family homelessness according to the NHCEH report, a 13,5 percent increase in student homelessness, and a nearly 67 percent increase in unsheltered homeless people between 2012 and 2014.

My doctor should not be the only one worried.

GROWING UP GRANITE

What is homelessness?

The NH Coalition to End Homelessness states the following:

Homelessness is a highly complex issue that may assume a range of scenarios and have varying effects on each person that experiences it. Social service providers, policy makers and researchers continue to have ongoing dialogue about what it means to be homeless; yet, the responses remain inconsistent.

Health centers funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) use the following:

A homeless individual is defined as “an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family), including an individual whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility (e.g., shelters) that provides temporary living accommodations, and an individual who is a resident in transitional housing.” A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation.
[Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C., 254b)]

An individual may be considered to be homeless if that person is “doubled up,” a term that refers to a situation where individuals are unable to maintain their housing situation and are forced to stay with a series of friends and/or extended family members. In addition, previously homeless individuals who are to be released from a prison or a hospital may be considered homeless if they do not have a stable housing situation to which they can return. A recognition of the instability of an individual’s living arrangements is critical to the definition of homelessness.
(HRSA/Bureau of Primary Health Care, Program Assistance Letter 99-12, Health Care for the Homeless Principles of Practice)

Programs funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) use a different, more limited definition of homelessness.
[found in the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-22, Section 1003)]

  • An individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
  • An individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground;
  • An individual or family living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including hotels and motels paid for by Federal, State or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, congregate shelters, and transitional housing);
  • An individual who resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided;
  • An individual or family who will imminently lose their housing [as evidenced by a court order resulting from an eviction action that notifies the individual or family that they must leave within 14 days, having a primary nighttime residence that is a room in a hotel or motel and where they lack the resources necessary to reside there for more than 14 days, or credible evidence indicating that the owner or renter of the housing will not allow the individual or family to stay for more than 14 days, and any oral statement from an individual or family seeking homeless assistance that is found to be credible shall be considered credible evidence for purposes of this clause]; has no subsequent residence identified; and lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing; and
  • Unaccompanied youth and homeless families with children and youth defined as homeless under other Federal statutes who have experienced a long-term period without living independently in permanent housing, have experienced persistent instability as measured by frequent moves over such period, and can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time because of chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of domestic violence or childhood abuse, the presence of a child or youth with a disability, or multiple barriers to employment.

Hence different agencies use different definitions of homelessness, which affect how various programs determine eligibility and services for individuals and families at the state and local level.

This point is made again in The NH Coalition to End Homelessness’ December 2014 report, The State of Homelessness in New Hampshire 2014, which states, “it is clear that inconsistencies about the definition of homelessness do have serious implications for the state’s ability to adequately respond to the problem and to serve those who are in need.”

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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