Shelters reduce beds due to pandemic, raising concerns about winter

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Concord Coalition to End Homelessness executive director Ellen Groh stands in the interior of the winter homeless shelter on North Main Street. Geoff Forester

Story Produced by Concord Monitor, a Member of

Concord’s homeless shelter is reducing capacity due to coronavirus, raising concerns that there won’t be enough beds come January. 

The Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, which provides temporary housing in the winter, accepts 40 people a night on a normal year. In light of new safety regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they have reduced capacity to 28, a 30 percent decrease in beds. 

These reductions come as many fear there will be an increased demand for resources if a moratorium on evictions ends in January. 

Ellen Groh, the executive director of the coalition said the organization is currently searching for a larger space to increase their capacity, but if they can’t secure a location this year, it’s likely there will be more people than beds. Last year, even when all 40 beds were available, there were several days in which the shelter was at maximum capacity.

Local shelters in Concord have discussed using grant money to give homeless individuals a hotel voucher for nights where shelters are at full capacity. However, Groh said finding a hotel that will accept the vouchers is challenging. 

CCEH also made the difficult decision to pause its volunteer program to reduce the risk of an outbreak of COVID-19. Usually, the coalition has about 100 volunteers who help clean and check guests in. 

“Our volunteers are invaluable,” she said. “We rely on them very heavily.”

Concord isn’t alone in its concern.

Last week, 13 mayors in the state sent a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu, asking for help managing the homelessness crisis in light of the pandemic. The group said many shelters had to reduce their number of beds to allow for social distancing.

“It is only with the State’s support that we collectively can adequately address this homelessness crisis from a state-wide perspective,” the letter read. “We need swift action, and we look forward to working with you on collaborative solutions to this crisis.”

The mayors called on the governor to create a statewide plan that goes beyond emergency shelter beds to address the root issues contributing to homelessness such as affordable housing. The last statewide homelessness plan was published in 2006, which the group said needs to be updated.

Concord’s Emergency Winter Shelter, built by the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, is set to open on Dec. 17 with 40 beds. The new shelter is located at 238 N. Main St. Courtesy of Ridgelight Studio

They also requested the governor to establish a group, akin to the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Other Drugs, to track the state’s progress.

“We all bear a responsibility in ending homelessness, and a partnership between local communities, both rural and urban, and the State is the only way to adequately serve the New Hampshire residents living unsheltered,” the letter continued.

In a press conference Thursday, Sununu said the state has already provided $3.5 million to shelters for COVID relief, which he called an “unprecedented” amount of funding.

However, Jim Bouley, the mayor of Concord, said this funding is designated for COVID-related expenses, not for increasing the number of beds.

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful,” he said. “But in Concord, we’re still dealing with this issue. When (the state is) doing the best they can, there can still be issues.”

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