Solving homelessness a statewide conversation that requires direct services, permanent housing

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.

“As a community, and as a state, we have a shared responsibility to help our most vulnerable residents. And while we will not put an end to homelessness overnight, collectively, we can make a strong, positive impact by continuing to lift up organizations and nonprofits who are committed to this work.”

These words, penned by Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Chamber President Mike Skelton, serve as a clear directive for the local community and I thank them for helping to refocus our collective efforts in support of those among us facing unique challenges in life, especially during the current health crisis. The pandemic brings the issue of homelessness to the forefront of discussions about a need for a broader recovery plan, one that spans local, state, national, and global forums. COVID-19 has driven us to rewrite the book on working with people experiencing homelessness. 

As a community, we must be disciplined with our course for care. As the Mayor and Mr. Skelton point out, compassionate and well-intentioned citizens are best to direct their aid to programs that are poised to meet these ever-changing needs and avoid direct handouts to people on the street.

When I took the role as the new President of Families in Transition-New Horizons (FIT-NH) just over one month ago, I made a commitment to foster the care for basic needs of people in this area. This has been and will remain a joint effort in our community, it is the only way to succeed. We continue to stand with the Mayor and city leaders, emergency responders, law enforcement, non-profits and state leaders of all backgrounds to ensure we resume the work of this mission within the confines of the COVID response around New Hampshire.

With the community’s help, FIT-NH continues to expand and adjust various programs to meet this challenge head-on. In the past few months, we’ve rapidly evolved safety protocols, opened new facilities for safe social distancing, provided and facilitated direct services in the community, and enhanced an array of existing programs – all designed to serve a population among us with diverse and shifting challenges during this crisis. Much of this work involves direct support to people who suffer from mental health and substance use disorders and who face seemingly insurmountable personal and financial burdens to find and retain permanent housing. This is an area in which we must continue to focus time and resources. I’m confident we will find solutions to space and program needs.

Our organization relies not only on grants and funding from state and federal resources, but in many respects on private donations from businesses and community members to fulfill our mission. FIT-NH is taking action and making decisions about how to provide and fund long-term services in a world calling for social distancing. I am confident with the team approach to problem-solving among our community partners, we will answer the call as needs change.

In my short tenure over the last month I have witnessed a spirit of collaboration throughout the community. FIT-NH will keep striving to meet needs and adjust our operational plans as the needs of greater Manchester change. Since the Governor’s stay-at-home order in March, we have ensured that over 50,000 meals and hundreds of non-perishable food boxes were provided to our program participants in Manchester. We took steps to ensure the safety and security of our shelter locations for as many as 600 individuals around the state each evening in our emergency, transitional, and permanent housing solutions. Our teams have committed countless hours of community outreach and case management to people in encampments and hundreds of sessions of treatment and case management, both in-person and via telehealth, with our participants and our substance use treatment clients.

I cannot possibly thank citizens enough for their continued generosity in working toward long-term healing and recovery. We are all in this situation together, facing the same foe with the same risks to our basic health and safety. We still have more work to do, but together we can make a huge difference.

Maria Devlin

President & CEO, Families In Transition–New Horizons