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MANCHESTER, NH – Celebration is at the heart of what drives Schonna Green, Director of Homeless Initiatives for the city of Manchester. She stepped into the newly-created position in April, one expected to effectively address the needs of Manchester’s homeless population with the help of existing city programs, the local business community, other nonprofits, communities of faith and homeless folks themselves.
For 21 years, Green was director of Florida’s M.I.S.S. Inc. of the Treasure Coast, which she founded with a $7,000 grant. It now provides services and housing for 140 people, including mothers who are heads of households, senior women and people with mental health and/or substance abuse problems.
Q. What are your first impressions of New Hampshire?
A. I love this state. I want to see everything and go everywhere. During my last 14-hour leg driving up from Florida in April, I went through rain, sleet, sludge and snow. At first I thought, “I brought it with me,” but then I said, “I’m here!”
Q. Your high energy level feels both genuine and impressive. What motivates you?
A. We’re born with a mission, and the key is to find it. I’m from a military family. We don’t give up. I have much to offer, and I still have much to do. In dealing with people who are homeless, it’s important that you have faith because that is where you are going to go to be filled up. You’re constantly getting depleted when you’re working with so many people who are oppressed. You always have to find the positive within it.
Q. Specifically, how can the Manchester business community help you?
A. Expertise as it relates to local business. The business community obviously has the wherewithal, and I think it has ideas and opinions that maybe we need to try. I don’t want to just say money — you can’t just keep throwing money at this. You have to throw a real solution, and I believe that solution-driven conversations need to happen, and not just from the people deemed experts on service delivery, but from the experts in the business community. It’s got to be a cohesive approach.
Q. What do most of us not understand about homelessness?
A. In understanding the homeless, we have the financial issue and the lack of affordable housing. And then we have the special-needs homeless that have layers and layers of other issues, whether it’s mental health, drug addiction or domestic violence. I think we all need to be compassionate when it comes to services and deliver to anybody who is homeless or unhoused — because at any time, given the right weather condition or incorrect circumstance, we could be a paycheck or two away ourselves. The housing provides the box in which to put all of that mess so it’s not visible to the public, but because we don’t have the shell, we’re bearing witness to it on the street. The lack of affordable housing affects everyone. Homelessness is on this side and the housing shortage is on this side. There’s a fine line between a humanitarian approach to homelessness, and “we don’t want to see it.” The middle road is the hardest road to walk.
Q. The HOPE program (Housing Options Promote Empowerment for All People and Incomes) that you’re rolling out has several unique features.
Unite Us New Hampshire (sponsored by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services) will provide a networking forum so that clients can be directed to the specific services they need. Referrals will be more accurate, and services delivered and the outcomes of those services will be transparent to all network organizations. A QR code that can be captured on a cellphone will help a person electronically apply for the services he or she needs.
The outreach that’s going on in Manchester is phenomenal, but we need to look at it a different way. We want to make sure we do it the right way.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A. There is no way anyone should be building without 5 to 10 percent devoted to affordable housing or making a donation. Florida’s Sadowski Affordable Housing Act gives 10 cents per thousand dollars of real estate stamp tax transactions to a trust that develops affordable housing. It’s not on me, but I’d like to see that here … Don’t assume we don’t know how to fix problems in our city. We have to be hopeful that the city can come together, that it can effect change. Never ever forget that the city is yours.
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