MANCHESTER, NH —An unexpected $100,000 gift from a local charitable foundation is allowing FIT/New Horizons to open a second shelter to reduce the number of homeless housed in its 199 Manchester St. facility.
Cathy Kuhn, chief strategy officer, and Stephanie Savard, chief operating officer, said the donor asked not to be identified.
“Our immediate thought was how can we use this funding to better protect the folks who are in the shelter from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kuhn. “So that is our plan. We are putting this to use immediately to try to separate out people who are in the shelter.“
Kuhn, who also is with the statewide New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness, said the state Department of Health and Human Services is working to find regional sites to shelter the homeless who need to be isolated, because they are exhibiting symptoms or test positive for the virus, or need to be quarantined.
One is already operational in Strafford County Kuhn said.
She said should someone test positive for the virus today in Manchester, the individual will be transported to that facility.
“They will provide transportation, feed them, provide them with whatever they need during that isolation or quarantine period,” Savard said.
“There was a huge sigh of relief when we learned that was being set up,” said Kuhn. “It’s all happening in real-time.”
Presently, the Manchester Street shelter does not have the space to separate, isolate or quarantine anyone and there is no way to keep a six-foot distance between the 138 people who fill the shelter each day for meals and a place to sleep.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester is allowing FIT/New Horizons to use the nearby St. Casimir School on Union Street. The building, which is literally in the shelter’s back yard, is up for sale. FIT/New Horizons had previously used it when renovations were being done at the shelter.
They want to put 30 to 40 people in that building, depending on staff availability. People will be separated into classrooms.
The facility needs to be staffed 24/7 which requires six full-time employees and six part-time employees. Kuhn said they plan to move half the staff from the Manchester Street facility to St. Casimir so that there will be experienced people at both sites.
In hiring staff, they are looking for people with backgrounds in human services, medical training and/or mental health but master’s and bachelor degrees are not required.
“We’re looking for people with some experience with vulnerable population or in a human services setting,” Kuhn said. They are reaching out to people who were furloughed from non-profits since the new positions are temporary. They also are hoping to recruit some volunteers as well.
Mayor Joyce Craig expressed appreciation for the grant as part of a “united response” that will surely save lives.
“Our city is deeply appreciative of this grant, and we’re thankful for all of the work being done by Families in TransitionNew Horizons to provide care and safe shelter for our homeless population during this pandemic,” Craig said. “We are in an unprecedented time which requires a united response from the public and private sector; this gift will save lives.”
The Medical Corps of the New Hampshire National Guard — the same group that set up the alternative medical site at Southern New Hampshire University — is advising them on the best use of the space at the Union Street facility and also on how to make changes at the Manchester Street facility to improve the protection of individuals from the virus.
The projects are huge and have to be done quickly.
“It’s important and we know it is the right thing to do and we are trying to do everything we can to protect this population,” said Savard. “So, again, we are so fortunate to receive this gift at the right time to allow us to be able to move quickly and do everything we can to make this happen.”
They said they are grateful to CMC Healthcare for the Homeless Clinic which is on-site. “They have been with us through thick and thin from day one,” said Savard. “They are angels. I have always respected the work they do but they are rising up in this scenario more than I have ever seen. They are unbelievable.”
The other shoutout they wanted to give is to the Manchester Fire Department that provided PPE (personal protective equipment) for their staff, and cots, linens and smoke detectors for the Union Street facility; Mayor Joyce Craig and the Manchester Health Department. All were needed, they said, to put everything together.
Kuhn said they are working hard to ensure those working at the shelter stay safe, be healthy and have the ability to continue working.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep them healthy because without them, obviously, we don’t have a shelter,” she said.
Savard said she doesn’t know how long the $100,000 will allow them to operate the second facility.
“We will ask the community to continue to supply support because the funding is not going to last forever,” Kuhn said.
She said they did identify two other facilities in the city but they simply don’t have the people, or the money, to staff them.
For more information about FIT/New Horizons, visit their website at www.fitnh.org.