MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan said he has selected a 20-year homeless and housing services veteran from Florida to serve as the city’s first-ever director of homeless initiatives.
Schonna Green, 56, of Port St. Lucie, Florida, will officially begin her two-year term on April 18, with an annual salary of $94,458. She will begin as a city employee under the oversight of the Manchester Fire Department, with the possibility of the position transferring to another department at a later date.
Green told Manchester Ink Link Thursday she is excited and very happy to be living and working in Manchester, and she has already spoken with a number of local stakeholders in the nonprofit world, as well as Mayor Joyce Craig.
“You got a great team. They are up against it and they are doing a great job,” Green said of Manchester homeless service providers.
In 1999, Green founded MISS Inc of the Treasure Coast, a nonprofit that focuses on providing housing and services to women with children, senior singles and mentally ill individuals, and has served as its executive director for the past 22 years.
The organization started with a $7,000 grant and grew to build and own $3.8 million in assets, provide services to about 140 people annually, and operate with an annual budget of about $350,000 and a staff of 7.5.
“It was no small feat. We had to change the way we see homelessness,” Green said.
Now, the Suffolk County, New York, native is ready to move back north.
“I want to bring my expertise to New Hampshire,” she said.
So far, Green said she is still speaking with local leaders and doing research about the particular contours of issues the Queen City faces; such as incomes, the housing market, public health infrastructure and the factors that contribute to homelessness.
But she already has a lot of ideas for new initiatives, Green said.
Generally speaking, Green said housing initiatives need to be built around a “matrix” which includes points of entry, stabilization, transition and permanency.
Some ideas, such as Alderman Pat Long’s proposal to construct about 60 prefabricated cabin shelters to aid the most chronically homeless into transitional housing, are potential opportunities to address some parts of the matrix, says Green, like entry and stabilization.
But without opportunities for permanency — without an affordable housing inventory to transition someone toward — it’s an incomplete strategy.
Green’s solution is to build more housing. She said MISS Inc did this in Florida. She said they built and still own and operate three housing facilities that support certain populations, using a mixture of federal, state, county and city funds, as well as buy-in from area businesses and foundations.
“We need more nonprofits getting in the arena of development and construction,” Green said.
She said unlike for-profit developers, nonprofits will be able to leverage grants to build housing, and keep rents low because they wouldn’t have any loans to pay back.
But she said it would also be important, generally, to make sure any new housing fits aesthetically with the area, is not concentrated in one place and provides for mixed uses, and housing for various income levels.
“That’s what makes community,” Green said. “Diversity is the healthiest way to go in creating communities that are sustainable and healthy.”
Part of the solution, she said, will be creating more affordable housing for regular, working-class people, in addition to those who are experiencing poverty.
The inventory is so low, Green said she even had a hard time finding an apartment for herself.
“You guys are at a one percent vacancy rate up there. So it was a hard find,” she said.
While her term is for two years, initially, she said it her goal to win over city officials and stick around for the long haul. She anticipates there will be some initiatives that can be implemented right away during her first term, and also hopes to draft a master plan so all service providers are working toward the same unifying strategy.
Goonan said Green’s strengths at finding multiple sources of funding, her understanding of the issues and the continuum of care, and experience creating a housing trust in Florida will be important assets for the city.
“We believe Schonna will be a fresh pair of eyes and provide a diverse perspective on our homelessness issue,” Goonan said. “Although, Schonna may be less familiar with the area, her experience and knowledge in the causes of homelessness and the response to those issues including community outreach and developing sustainable support services are exceptional.”
The homeless services director position will be paid primarily from Community Development Block Grant funds. Aldermen approved the creation of the position in January with an 8-4 vote.