In transition: Longtime advocate for the homeless moves on, reflects on FIT/NH progress – and lingering needs

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Cathy Kuhn is moving on and heading south but will continue to fight for the homeless. Courtesy Photo

MANCHESTER, NH – Cathy Kuhn, an ardent advocate for the homeless who wore a duo of hats as the chief strategy officer for Families in Transition-New Horizons (FIT-NH) and as director of the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness (NHCEH), is relocating to Louisville, Ky.

Kuhn joined Families in Transition in 2006 and continued in various roles when the organization merged with New Horizons in 2018.  

She counts among her and the agency’s accomplishments the establishment of more than 200 units of affordable housing for those with the lowest income.

Those include:  

  • 160 units of permanent supportive, affordable and recovery housing units in Manchester
  • 7 units of emergency housing for families in Wolfeboro
  •  8 units of permanent supportive housing in Dover
  • 38 units of housing in the private market supported by subsidies from FIT-NH in the Manchester, Concord, and Seacoast areas.

Another 11 units of permanent supportive housing for those transitioning from homelessness are planned at the original Angie’s Place shelter on Union Street.

She said the greatest challenge was and still is the lack of affordable housing in the city and across the state.

When she first arrived in the city, she said “people weren’t really paying attention to the lack of affordable housing and the consequences of not having affordable housing can have on the well-being of the entire community.  We’re not just talking about the well-being of people of low income.  The health of a community relies on having affordable housing for everyone.”

Over the 14 years, Kuhn said she feels substantial progress was made in getting people to understand how critical it is that affordable housing be built into communities.

“I feel that now more than ever we are going to see substantial progress in this arena, especially now with COVID. People can clearly see the connection between health and housing and it really underscores for people making sure their community has affordable housing,” she said.  “There is still work to be done.”

Kuhn said presently rents in the city are at the highest level they have ever been.

“The reason the rents are so high is the vacancies are so low because there’s just not enough housing,” she said.  “So it’ really about investing, making sure the state and the communities are investing in the production of affordable housing.  I think at the statewide level we’ve seen more interest in that with investment in our state Housing Trust Fund which we hadn’t had significant investment in it in many, many years.”

She said just recently the state recognized the need to invest in that fund to produce affordable housing.

“It’s a supply problem and that’s where we need to be focusing our attention,” she said.

Developers, she explained, are not building affordable housing because they have no incentive to do so.

“There needs to be some sort of investment on the local, state and federal level as an incentive to actually create them,” Kuhn said.

 As chief strategy officer for FIT-NH, Kuhn provided strategic direction for agency departments including Emergency Shelter and Housing Intake, Research and Evaluation, Marketing and Communication, Resource Development, Property Management and Housing Development.

In 2012, she became the director of NHCEH, a nonprofit dedicated to finding solutions to homelessness in New Hampshire through research, education and advocacy.

She is proud of being on the ground, doing the work and going back to advocating for the homeless.

What she takes great pride in is “bringing people with experience of homelessness to the table because we can’t come up with adequate solutions on our own without bringing in people who have experienced it,” she said.  “So I’ve been really proud to develop this unique program that brings people to the table and having a voice and a say in the program around housing and homelessness.” 

Following Kuhn’s footsteps as the director of NHCEH is Stephanie Savard, chief operating officer of FIT-NH. 

“I am so pleased the coalition is going to be under Stephanie’s leadership because this is a woman who has 23 years of experience working in homelessness and she brings so much knowledge and experience to this issue,” she said.  “She is an advocate at heart.  “She also brings in expertise of substance misuse and mental health disorder.”

Kuhn has not lined up a new job in Louisville yet. Her family is relocating there for her husband’s work.

Louisville, with a homeless population numbering about 7,000, could certainly use her help.  Kuhn holds a PhD in sociology/urban studies from Michigan State University, where she taught before joining FIT-NH.  She also has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in resource development and environmental students.

For two years, 1997-99, she lived in Panama as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching environmental education in primary schools. 

She is also an adjunct professor of sociology having taught at Saint Anselm College, Southern New Hampshire University and New Hampshire Technical Institute.





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Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.