A new report shows that progress has been made to reduce the homeless population in New Hampshire but systemic problems could lead to future increases.
The NH Coalition to End Homelessness just released their fifth annual report on the State of Homelessness in New Hampshire. The report show some good news in the fight to eliminate homelessness but the report also shows some alarming trends the could undue all of the gains made over the past few years.
“2016 saw significant reductions in our overall homeless numbers. Data among specific subpopulations of the homeless also indicates that important progress is being made,” wrote Cathy Kuhn Ph.D, Director of The NH Coalition to End Homelessness (NHCEH). “The number of individuals living unsheltered continued to drop over the past year and homelessness among veterans and among the chronically homeless also declined.”
The report shows that programs like the NH Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness (NHICH) are making real progress in combating homelessness.
“Under the leadership of the NHICH, the state has made significant progress towards creating a Supportive Housing Services Benefit for Medicaid beneficiaries who are experiencing homelessness. Research consistently shows that combining affordable housing with tenancy support services and care coordination can help those with the greatest challenges to live with stability and wellness,” Kuhn added.
With a goal of completely eliminating homelessness in New Hampshire, NHCEH reported a significant drop in homelessness in 2016. Overall homelessness in New Hampshire dropped by 19% from 2014 numbers with Merrimack County seeing the largest drop at 56%.
This is great news, especially when added with the fact that “Chronic Homelessness,” that is people who have been continually homeless for over a year, fell by 17%.
The state also saw a 45% decrease in “unsheltered homelessness.” This is a 63% drop from 2014 numbers. “Providing appropriate interventions as quickly as possible for people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness, particularly for those who are newly homeless, is critical to preventing the development of additional complications associated with long-term, chronic homelessness,” NHCEH stated.
NHCEH also found that nearly half (41%) of the overall homeless population in New Hampshire are “persons in families.” The good news is that family homelessness is also down by 29% in 2016. 221 homeless persons in families were able to move off of the streets and into stable housing this year.
The last bit of good news is that veteran homelessness in New Hampshire fell by 19% in 2016 and is down over 32% since 2014. This dramatic drop over the last few years comes from a combination of state and federal assistance to end “functional homelessness” for veterans.
“In New Hampshire, significant efforts have been made to reach functional zero among the state homeless veteran population. With substantial support from the Governor’s Office, numerous agencies serving veterans across the state are working together to identify and immediately house any veteran who is either unsheltered or residing in an emergency shelter or transitional living program. These efforts are reflected in the continual declines that the state has seen in its homeless veteran population,” reported NHCEMH.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Overall the report shows astounding results in lowering the homeless population in New Hampshire, the report also shows some serious issues that need to be address that if unchanged could lead in an increase in homelessness.
It is a fact that New Hampshire has one of the lowest unemployment rates in that country, sitting at 2.7%. Most counties in New Hampshire saw more than a 30% decrease in unemployment over the last two years. This means that more people are working which should be good news in the fight to end homelessness but the NHCEH report highlighted some of New Hampshire’s unique problems.
“While low unemployment rates are being enjoyed across all New Hampshire counties, it’s important to note that even when working full time, many low income people are still unable to attain stable housing due to low wages and/or temporary and irregular work opportunities. One recent analysis reports that someone working full time at minimum wage would need to work 91 hours per week in order to afford a one bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent in New Hampshire.”
Gaining employment does not always lead to prosperity. NHCEH notes that the poverty rate in New Hampshire, currently 8.9%, has grown by 6% a year since 2014. “Given the link between homelessness and poverty, the steady increase in the state has the potential to slow recent decreases in the number of homeless individuals and families,” stated NHCEMH.
To make matters worse wages have not kept up with the increased cost of housing. Statewide wages have increased by 3.7% but have failed to keep up with the 8.8% increase in median rental costs.
Below is the breakdown of the “median gross rent” for a 2-bedroom apartment by county in NH. As you can see the median cost for a 2-bedroom apartment in Rockingham and Hillsborough are $1,321 and $1,278 a month, respectively.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition the median “fair market rent” for a 1-bedroom apartment in New Hampshire is $861 a month. Remember, a full time (40 hour) minimum wage worker ($7.25 per hour) earns $290 a week or $1,160 a month. That means that 74% of their monthly paycheck would go to paying for housing alone and does not include food, heat, electricity, transportation or any other expenses. The cost for a 2-bedroom apartment it ranges from 68% of their monthly paycheck in Coos County to 113% in Rockingham County.
To keep their housing costs below the 33% guideline, the National Low Income Housing Coalition also estimates that a worker would need an hourly wage of $16.55 for a 1-bedroom apartment and $21.09 for a 2-bedroom apartment. To meet the 33% guideline a minimum wage worker would need to work 91 hours a week for a 1-bedroom and 116 hours a week for a 2-bedroom apartment.
The New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness also highlighted another problem plaguing New Hampshire: a lack of affordable housing. Nearly 30% of Granite Staters are renting and that means there is a very low “vacancy rate.” The vacancy rate is defined as “the percentage of available rental units in a given area.” Statewide the vacancy rate is 1.5%, which leads many to struggle to find stable and affordable housing.
“These low vacancy rates further exacerbate the scarcity of affordable housing in these populous regions of the state, making it even more difficult for low income renters to find stable housing. The combined impact of rising rents and declining vacancy rates often leads many individuals and families to still live in temporary rooming houses or motels, often thought of as the housing of last resort by many advocates,” noted NHCEH. “These living environments can be particularly difficult for children and families who are forced to relinquish their privacy and to live in very cramped and sometimes unsafe quarters in order to maintain some semblance of shelter.”
These three factors (stagnant wages, high rent increases, and low vacancy rates) should be a warning sign to everyone that New Hampshire is teetering on the very edge of dramatic increase in the homeless population. Many Granite Staters a struggling to hold on. In a 2013 survey, 76% of people national, said they are living paycheck-to-paycheck and more than 47% said they do not even have enough to cover a $400 emergency expense.
All it would take for many of these people is one incident, one missed paycheck to be in real danger of ending up homeless. If our goal is to completely eliminate homelessness, then we need to start by increasing wages, slowing the increasing cost of renting, and building more affordable housing across the state.
Dr. Kuhn summed it up perfect by saying:
“Once again, I am so proud of the excellent work being done by service providers, volunteers, advocates, policy makers, community leaders, and concerned citizens to end homelessness in our state. It is clear that our work is making an impact! Despite our progress, however, there are still far too many men, women and children who are homeless in New Hampshire. Over the next year, it will be important that we continue our commitment to permanently and immediately house anyone who falls into homelessness in New Hampshire. For our part, the Coalition remains steadfast in our belief that, together, we can and will end homelessness in New Hampshire, I invite you to join us as we work towards this achievable goal.”
Until we eliminate homelessness many find refuge in community shelters. These shelters are always in need of donations and here is a quick list of things, aside from food, your local shelter could use.
A list from the Homeless Shelter Directory:
Feminine hygiene products
(I would also add linens, pillows, and blankets)
The NH Charitable Foundation also released their list of 12 Things Food Pantries Wish They Had…But Might Not Ask For as a guide for donations.