O P I N I O N
Happy New Year!
New Year’s is a time that many people celebrate new beginnings and look forward to what the next twelve months will bring. New Year’s is a time when many people make resolutions or set goals for the upcoming year and when gym memberships spike.
In honor of the new year, I was going to lay out some things that are done in other cities that may work here, (adapting ideas is a good thing in my opinion). But in light of the recent deaths of two homeless people, I switched gears and am going to write about an issue that is unfortunately as common in Manchester as the day is long.
The Issue without solutions
As many know, on Christmas Day, a woman was found dead in a tent in front of the Families in Transition homeless shelter. Any death is tragic, but this is also ironic because the death happened in front of a homeless shelter…let that sink in…in front of the homeless shelter. In their defense, the shelter is full, as are shelters throughout the state, but there is a fenced-in courtyard on the shelter property where a greenhouse used to sit.
The fact that there is unused fenced-in land at the homeless shelter where people could set-up a tent to sleep does not sit well with me and others, including elected officials such as Ward 3 Alderman, Pat Long, (Ward 3 includes the area around the shelter). Alderman Long questioned why the courtyard is not being used as an encampment for the homeless. He pointed out that the shelter could at least provide Porta Potties that could be used by the homeless. The response, given by Stephanie Savard, who is the chief of external relations officer for Families in Transition, (FIT), was that FIT does not believe it is appropriate to have a homeless encampment on shelter property. The reason, Savard said, is that they do not have the staff to manage an encampment. According to another official with FIT, the shelter, which houses 138 people, is full most nights and on some of those nights only has two people – half their optimal number of staff – to oversee those sleeping inside. Even four people doesn’t seem like enough, so what is going to be done about it?
I – and am sure many others – want to hear some ideas from FIT on how they are planning on housing more people. In my opinion, we should at least be getting some ideas from FIT on how we should handle the influx of homeless in our city. They’re experts, right? I believe that they should open their courtyard to create a fenced-in encampment away from the streets with their own bathrooms – at least until a more permanent solution can be found. If more volunteers are needed to safely do this, how can more be recruited? What are the requirements to volunteer at the shelter?
I do not care why people are homeless or what situation or life choices were made that result in a person becoming unhoused. (It could be addiction, which is a complicated issue – which is one of the reasons that homelessness is complicated) I want to know how the existing homeless shelter is going to do more to help. And instead of giving reasons why they can’t help, how are they going to get to a point where they can.
Some Homeless Statistics from other Communities
Even before that homeless death in front of the FIT shelter, I did a bit of research on homelessness throughout New England, focusing on Massachusetts because we share a border with them.
I started with Boston because, although a much larger city than Manchester, (654,776 compared to Manchester’s 115,462), it is good to see if anything they are doing could be adapted to our city. Last year, (2022), Boston saw a 2.4% drop in homelessness and a 30% drop in the number of homeless who stayed on the street. In other words, most of the homeless found shelter, whether it be in one of the four emergency shelters, (totalling 410 beds), operated by the Pine Street Inn, or in other shelters in the city. My question is how a city with a population over five and a half times that of Manchester reduces homelessness while numbers in Manchester continue to rise. (2018-2019)(2020).
Closer to home, Lowell, MA, which has a population similar to that of Manchester, (Lowell’s population is 113,994), and shares a similar community profile, has utilized several programs to get people off the streets and into housing, including what is known as “Housing First”. Other things that have been done include increased bed availability and increased diversion. They also increased their coordination and service array with various nonprofits and faith-based organizations. Lowell seems to be making truly affordable housing a priority. Is Manchester?
(I’ve heard the argument that developers will not build many affordable housing units in Manchester because they are too expensive to construct and there is not money to be made on them. Okay, very understandable that to be in business means making a profit. So the question becomes how can it be done in Massachusetts, where it is more costly to build?). I of course am not advocating for the government to pay for all of this development, but am wondering if there are public-private partnerships that could be created or maybe available tax incentives that could be utilized. These are questions that should be explored.
I am the type of person who will not present a problem without presenting ideas, (or at least ask for them). So here are six ideas that I believe would help reduce homelessness in Manchester.
1) Employ the Rapid Rehousing model. But be sure that those who are part of this program participate in mandated programs or services and are provided with needed support in order to help them maintain their housing. So maybe a modified version of Rapid Rehousing.
2) Work with local non-profits and faith-based organizations to build more emergency shelter beds as well as transitional housing.
3) Work with organizations and others to secure grants that would allow more developers to provide badly needed affordable housing. The cost of construction has significantly increased, so helping developers reduce construction costs would help them be better able to provide more housing.
4) Adopt regulations to allow for tiny homes in Manchester. While living in a tiny home in NH is legal, certain regulations need to be adjusted in order for them to be cost-effective. Once the state passes laws specific to tiny homes, the city should adjust regulations to make them easier to be constructed here in Manchester.
5) Take a hard look at the housing regulations in the city. Be prepared to adapt or get rid of them. Are the regulations needed?
6) Stop pandering and passing the buck. Just help those who need it. Partner with nonprofits as well as faith-based organizations. It is about people first!
What are your ideas? I’d love to hear them! You can drop a comment or email me at email@example.com. Alderman Pat Long is also looking for ideas. You can contact Alderman Long by clicking here. Together we can get a handle on homelessness in our city. So let’s stop simply complaining and start taking action!