‘As for me and my house, we will stay clean and sober’
–Keith Howard, Executive Director of Liberty House
MANCHESTER, NH – Nonprofits don’t often turn down money. When they do, it deserves explanation.
In August, the board of directors of Liberty House, a Manchester transitional living facility for formerly homeless veterans, made a brave and shocking decision. Effective Jan. 1, Liberty House will no longer accept any federal funding from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), even though this $40,000 annually has provided almost 15 percent of the organization’s budget. Until we make this up, as executive director I am voluntarily taking a 50 percent cut in pay, a small portion of the missing money.
Why would any organization leave money on the table, and why would a man take a pay cut? Simple. It is the right thing to do, and it is necessary to maintain our core principles.
Liberty House provides housing for 10 vets, food for 100-150 people per month – veterans or not, and clothing for anyone who comes to our door in need. We produce a podcast, “Beyond Spare Change,” providing a microphone for the unheard, and we are conducting a year-long experiment, having transformed an enclosed cargo trailer into living space. I am living in it until next June as proof of concept. As a formerly homeless vet myself, I am proud to spend my days working with men and women trying to return to the mainstream.
I’m also a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, and Liberty House is a clean and sober facility. Drug and alcohol use led many of us to homelessness, and sobriety provides a necessary part of our success. Were we to change our policy, we wouldn’t be able to change lives. The federal government disagrees. Let me explain.
HUD has embraced and is implementing “Housing First,” a policy that asserts that the first step in fighting homelessness is providing housing, which makes first-glance sense. Housing First has no expectation of sobriety, treatment, compliance or mandated services. In short, once people are housed they can continue to use drugs and alcohol, with the hope that given intensive case management, they will decide independently to become sober.
This, I fear, is pious nonsense. Housing First has much to recommend it, but Liberty House’s population, many newly clean and sober, would struggle in an alcohol/drug-friendly environment. Still, HUD has ruled, making funding contingent upon Housing First.
Tragically, in addition to the ravages of alcoholism, at Liberty House we see people from the street who are the current opioid crisis’ walking wounded and have buried too many dead. Liberty House is and always has been clear-headed about addiction issues, and our success in dealing with our own population underscores that we are doing something right.
We are an honorable organization, hewing to our core principles. Liberty House has declined funds, and I have taken a 50 percent pay cut until that $40,000 is made up. As for me and my house, we will stay clean and sober.
Liberty House has made huge strides over the past few years, and I am confident our current supporters will help make up this shortfall.
More, though, I believe the citizens of New Hampshire, knowing Liberty House is standing up for common sense and conservative values, will respond and turn this $40,000 annually into a symbol of independence rather than an example of federal government overreach.
Please visit our website, libertyhousenh.org, to learn more about us and donate through PayPal, or send a donation to Liberty House, Inc., 75 West Baker St., Manchester, NH 03103. If you need food or clothing, please visit us, and we’ll make sure you leave with your needs met as best we can.
After all, that is the right thing to do.
Keith Howard is Executive Director of Liberty House, which has provided a safe, supportive, substance-free housing community for 200 American veterans (so far) transitioning out of homelessness since opening its doors in 2004.