Annual Report From NH Coalition to End Homelessness Shows
Alarming Rise In Homelessness Throughout New Hampshire
Today, the NH Coalition to End Homelessness (NHCEH) has released its sixth State of Homelessness in New Hampshire Report, which provides an overview of statewide indicators and trends in homelessness from 2015 to 2017. After decreasing by 19% from 2015 to 2016, the overall number of people experiencing homelessness in New Hampshire rose by 11% in 2017. This is in part due to increasing rents in conjunction with extremely low vacancy rates, which place low income renters in tenuous positions to find affordable housing.
“The increase in the numbers of children and families experiencing homelessness is concerning,” said Cathy Kuhn, director of the NHCEH. “Reversing this growth will require continued commitment and investment in the proven strategies that we know are successful in quickly rehousing those who become homeless.”
In the NH Labor News write up on NHCEH’s 2016 report, chronic homelessness was declining but there were serious concerns about affordable housing that could lead to a rise in homelessness.
This year saw a significant increase in homelessness in a few key areas.
- After decreasing by 19% from 2015 to 2016, the overall number of people experiencing homelessness rose by 11% in 2017.
- After dropping by 29% last year, the number of persons in families experiencing homelessness rose by 26%, from 539 people in 2016 to 680 people in 2017.
- Unsheltered Homelessness rose by 22%, from 143 to 174 in 2017
- From the 2015-2016 school year to the 2016-2017 school year, the statewide number of students experiencing homelessness rose by 6%. This rise continues a pattern of increases in the number of students experiencing homelessness in recent years.
- Increases in median gross rents continued to outpace increases in median household renter incomes, diminishing an already sparse market of affordable housing. Vacancy rates continue to decrease to alarmingly low levels across New Hampshire, with the state average falling from 2.2% in 2015 to 1.4% in 2017. A healthy vacancy rate is normally around five percent.
Over the last year, Strafford county saw the largest increase in homelessness with a 67% increase from 2016, but everyone in the state is feeling the pressure.
“Last year, our shelter was at or over capacity every night from December to July. We’ve had to bunk beds and place extra mattresses and cots in spaces not normally meant for dorm rooms to accommodate the increased demand,” said Martha Stone of the Cross Roads House in Portsmouth.
The NHCEH found that families make up 47% of overall homeless population. Persons in families who have experienced homelessness often have histories of violence and trauma, which can have harmful effects on the long-term wellbeing of both adults and children.
“Every month, we receive calls for shelter that we are unable to house. We receive calls daily from families looking for space,” said Arolyn Chappell of the Friends Emergency Housing Program in Concord.
In 2016, family homelessness dropped by 29%, however those gains were quickly erased after a 26% increase in 2017. Eight of the ten counties in New Hampshire saw in increase in family homelessness in 2017.
“Due to a lack of affordable housing in conjunction with a shortage of emergency shelter beds for families across New Hampshire, many service providers report increasing numbers of families residing in cars, campgrounds, and other unsafe and unsanitary living conditions,” wrote NHCEH.
Over the last three years, unsheltered homelessness — those who are living in temporary shelters, such as emergency shelters or transitional housing, and those who are living unsheltered, such as in a tent, a car, or somewhere else not meant for human habitation — is down by 33% but 2017 New Hampshire saw a rise in unsheltered homelessness by 22%.
The largest concentration of unsheltered homelessness is in Hillsborough County, but thanks to recent efforts to combat homelessness, Hillsborough County reduced their unsheltered homelessness by nearly 48% since 2015. Strafford County saw a 123% increase in unsheltered homelessness over the last year going from 18 to 38.
According to NHCEH, the key factors that lead to homelessness are “poverty and the lack of affordable housing.” While New Hampshire has one of the lowest unemployment rate’s in the country at 2.8%, workers are still struggling to find affordable housing.
“One recent analysis reports that someone working full-time at minimum wage would need to work 120 hours per week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent in New Hampshire,” NHCEH stated. “The same report lists New Hampshire as having the 14th highest housing wage in the country, with a worker having to earn almost $22 an hour in order to afford a modest two-bedroom unit in the state.
The difference between getting by paycheck-to-paycheck and becoming homeless is “one unexpected financial, medical or familial event.” Overall the poverty rate in New Hampshire fell slightly, 8.2% in 2015 to 7.3% in 2016, NHCEH says “financial stability is still out of reach for many in New Hampshire.”
As previously stated the biggest issue facing New Hampshire is lack of affordable housing. NHCEH found that monthly rental costs rose 8.8% to a median of $1259 per month. This is unacceptable considering that workers wages only rose 3.3% over the last year. The average renter makes $38,569 a year and pays over $15,000 a year in rent alone.
“We have seen a huge increase of people in threat of being evicted for nonpayment, and not just one or two months behind… five and six months, or more behind at times.” Dawn Ferringo, Prevention Services Division Director at Tri-County CAP in Lancaster.
To make matters worse, just finding an apartment has become increasingly difficult. Statewide the “vacancy rate” for rentals fell to 1.7%. Carroll County reported that they have a no rentals available and Cheshire Country reports less than 1% vacancy.
“These low vacancy rates further exacerbate the scarcity of affordable housing in these regions of the state, making it even more difficult for low income renters to find stable housing.”
There are many things that need to be done to decrease the homeless population in New Hampshire and the NH Coalition to End Homelessness will continue to push for policies and programs that will help eliminate homelessness in NH.
“With a continued commitment to collaboration in conjunction with a renewed investment in prevention strategies, it is possible to end homelessness in NH, creating a state in which every citizen has the opportunity to achieve long-term stability, wellness and success.”
Full NHCEH report can be found here
The NH Coalition to End Homelessness is a nonprofit organization with the purpose of eliminating the causes of homelessness through research, education, and advocacy. For more information about the NHCEH or the State of Homelessness in New Hampshire Report, visit www.nhceh.org or call 603-641-9441.
NHLN Coverage of the 2016 NHCEH annual report.