MANCHESTER, NH – Two weeks ago Amanda Robichaud was moved to speak during public comment before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Her three minutes of allotted comment time spilled over into more than five. She had a lot to say.
Those who came to speak before and after her came to implore the city to do something about the “homeless situation.”
Robichaud came to offer help. She came to let the city know she has mapped out a plan of action based on proven results. She came because she knows that homelessness is often a result of chronic addiction and untreated mental health issues and you can’t fix one without addressing the other.
Last year through outreach in the city, working with previous Director of Homeless Initiatives Schonna Green, Robichaud was able to get 74 people off the streets of Manchester and into recovery through GateHouse Treatment. Only three of those individuals returned to the street, Robichaud says.
She not only wants to keep working with the city but sees a way forward.
Robichaud will have another chance to present her plan. On Jan. 17 she’s on the agenda of the Special Committee on Alcohol, Drugs and Youth Services. Robichaud intends to lay out a proposal for the city to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness and drug addiction in the city.
Long-term relationship with the city
In her role as Northeast Director of Business Development for Gate House, a Nashua-based addiction treatment center, Robichaud has spent the past six years doing the leg work wherever needed. After Safe Station was instituted a bottleneck was discovered in getting people who had taken that first brave step through the door and into detox. It was Robichaud who stepped up with a way of reducing the process from hours to minutes.
Her in was her husband, Craig Robichaud, a city firefighter who knows firsthand what his wife is capable of.
“Back in the day Safe Station was having problems finding places for people to go to detox, either Farnum was full or Chief Goonan had to end up paying out of his own pocket to get people to Effingham respite. Through my work at Gate House I already had connections so my husband asked if I could help. What used to take them six hours, to find a place for someone to go was taking 20 minutes. I know it was such a relief for them,” Robichaud says.
She has continued doing peer-to-peer outreach in the city over the years. As a person in recovery herself, she understands the investment of time it takes to build trust. She also has experienced homelessness, and says she knows that the first step for those living unhoused and in the throes of addiction is to clear their minds, meet their needs, and remind them of their own worth.
Over these years things have not gotten better she says. There are more bottlenecks and red tape than ever. In many cases there are co-occurring mental health conditions. Untreated and without proper support, many of these folks spiral into homelessness where none of their issues can be solved.
“It’s a real struggle in New Hampshire,” she says. The millions of dollars that have been funneled into New Hampshire and through the statewide Doorway system have strings attached to opioids. Meanwhile, Robichaud says the current need for alcohol detox is close to 50 percent of those seeking help.
“We’re at a standstill. In order to get someone into a rehabilitation program they first need to detox – especially with alcohol. Our hospitals aren’t doing it,” she said. The real barriers to helping people involve a tangle of red tape and strings attached to money that dictates services that never make it to the people who need them most. The Doorway is more like a revolving door that drops people back where they started.
At the Jan. 3 aldermanic meeting Robichaud described it this way: “Imagine the Manchester fire department arriving to a fire in the city and requiring to see the homeowner’s insurance policy before putting out the fire. Sounds crazy, right? Time is of the essence and you only have so long to do the job efficiently before it’s a total loss. Now, imagine the fire department doesn’t think your homeowner’s policy is going to pay enough for the damage that’s been done. So they decide they don’t want to put out your fire and they leave you to figure it out alone. That’s exactly what’s happening to these patrons.”
Through her work in the city Robichaud has gotten to know others who are determined to help. One of those is Deb Starin, who describes herself as a retiree with a heart for those who need help.
“I think it was just something I was born with. I can’t bear to see people suffering, and there has been a lot of suffering going on in our city. Working with Amanda is making a lot of things possible for these people and I’m really thrilled and very happy to be working with GateHouse and Amanda,” Starin said.
Triage, Stabilization and Transition
Robichaud said she spent the weekend fine-tuning her proposal. She wanted to keep the details close until she had a chance to present to the committee. But she did say that there are some key elements when dealing with homelessness and addiction, something she calls TST – triage, stabilization and transition.
It starts with triage through intensive outreach among those who are houseless. Getting people out of the cold and into detox will allow them to stabilize.
Stabilization can mean anything from residential care or partial hospitalization to outpatient care with supportive housing, or in some cases, a psychiatric unit. Each person’s needs are different, but all people can be helped once their bodies are given time to reset.
Transition means finding a purpose in life through relearning who they are and how they can live their best life with the help of sober living, medication-assisted treatment or other supportive services.
“Something we want people to think about is boundaries and the impact of enabling. There are a lot of good-hearted people in the community but their good intentions aren’t helping. Keeping people comfortable on the sidewalk is keeping them out of treatment. When it’s 15 degrees outside or less, most of us cannot sustain living in that weather for long. I’m not saying it’s not a nice thing to do, to drop off food and blankets and heaters. But where these people need to go is into treatment. They aren’t able to make good decisions for themselves in the state they’re in,” Robichaud says. “We can help with that, but we need the city – and the state – to create the places for them to go once they get through treatment.”