[Hpn] High rents swell the ranks of homeless in NH

wtinker wtinker@fcgnetworks.net
Sun, 11 Feb 2001 14:50:17 -0500


      High rents swell the ranks of homeless in NH

      Shelters, services are overburdened


        By Ralph Jimenez, Globe Staff, 2/11/2001


        ONCORD - When the Salvation Army opened an emergency shelter for
  homeless families in its Concord church last month, it was filled within
  weeks.


        ''All the people here, every one of them I think, had been living in
  cars,'' captain Robert Kountz said of the residents.


        It was nearly 6 on a weeknight but none of the eight families who
  sought refuge in the building on Clinton Street were home yet. For one
  mother and father and their four children, home meant six green canvas
cots
  behind curtains in a partitioned former Sunday school classroom.


        ''They're all either at work or still picking their kids up from the
  baby sitter,'' Kountz said. ''All of them who come in say `we have money,
 we
  have a job, we just don't have a home to go to.'''


        Rents unfathomable a few years ago and an apartment vacancy rate
that
  is under 1 percent in many communities have added the working poor, the
  elderly, the disabled and even some members of the middle class to the
 ranks
  of the homeless.


        ''When you look at the average rent in Concord being $838 per month
  for a two-bedroom apartment, a person would have to earn something like
$16
  per hour to afford an apartment like that,'' said Senator Sylvia Larsen of
  Concord, among several lawmakers filing bills to aid the homeless.


        Last year, the 22 state-funded shelters turned away nearly 9,000
  people because they were full. There are no empty beds at the 17 privately
  funded shelters either, according to the state office in charge of
 assisting
  the homeless. One out of five of those given shelter is under age 10.


        ''That 9,000 is just the people who came in. The majority of our
  homeless families are doubled up and they are afraid that if they go to a
  shelter they will lose their kids,'' said Cindy Carlson, who works with
The
  Way Home, a Manchester nonprofit agency that assists the homeless.


        ''It's a myth that people lose their kids because they are
 homeless,''
  Carlson said. ''They only lose their kids if they neglect them, if they
say
  `no, we won't come to the shelter.'''


        Investors are buying up affordable housing, refurbishing it and
  charging what the market will bear, Carlson said. Manchester area rents
 have
  risen by 55 percent over the past few years, she said.


        ''We were called by one woman who has lived in the same unit in the
  same building for 29 years,'' Carlson said. ''She has been paying $400 per
  month but new owners are coming in and they are going to rehab the
building
  and raise her rent to $850 per month.''


        The woman has worked in the same professional office for decades.
She
  would be an ideal tenant. But, like most people making less than $25,000
or
  so, she cannot afford to pay the new rents that scarce apartments now
  command.


        Statewide, rent for a two-bedroom apartment averaged $774 in a
survey
  taken by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority last June. Nor is
  inexpensive housing being built. The median sale price of housing in 1999
  was $183,900 for a new home and $129,000 for an existing one.


        Carlson sends some clients to New Horizons, an emergency shelter run
  by a former Manchester police chief, Louis Craig. It is a ''wet shelter,''
  one that accepts alcoholics and drug users if they are trying to kick the
  habit. Some are professional people who have hit rock bottom, some suffer
  from mental illness. But Craig is seeing more cases of the new homeless.


        ''I've got 82 beds, and last night we had 132 here,'' Craig said.
  ''I've been as high as 148.'' The shelter serves single adults, and
directs
  families to other agencies.


        ''I know of families who live in cellars, cold, dank, dark cellars,
  and families living in hallways,'' Craig said. ''I know a combined family
  with four small boys who all sleep in one small bed. This is a great
 country
  of ours but for every apartment here now we have about 50 people who want
  it.''


        Some of the homeless are people who fall ill and cannot work.


        ''None of these people have insurance,'' said Pat Carney, an
outreach
  worker who pounds the pavement in Manchester's central city to bring the
  homeless in before they freeze.


       Though he now has a college degree and a home of his own, Carney was
  homeless for a long while himself. He talks with the brutal honesty of
  someone who has lived on the streets.


        ''Look out there,'' he said, gesturing to the snow-covered people
  trickling in during a storm to get one of the 300 free meals the shelter
  serves daily. ''What you see are WASPs. The Asians, Cubans, Mexicans, they
  have a lot of pride and they will make it work. They can have 5, 10, 20
  people in a room but they won't come here.''


        Andrea, a blond 19-year-old, said she became homeless after a fight
  that landed her boyfriend in jail for domestic assault. Two days earlier
 she
  had sent her 6-month-old daughter off to live in Montana with her
  mother-in-law while she tried to kick her addiction to cocaine.


        ''I'm just trying to work on my financial health and get my life
  together,'' she said. ''I started using drugs when I was 15 and I've seen
  two friends die from them.''


        She was planning to apply for a retail job the following day and
 start
  saving for an apartment. ''I'm hoping to only be here a month, maybe two,
  but there's no housing out there,'' she said.


        Many of the new homeless are faces you see every day, Carlson said.


        ''What we are not getting is that these poor people are the ones who
  wait on us at stores, the ones who cook and serve our food, and they are a
  crucial part of our economy,'' she said.


        Prior to the housing crisis, shelters were able to keep up, said
 Larry
  Singelais, director of the Community Services Council, which operates the
  state's homeless hot line.


        ''What happened is that now they have those people to take care of,
  plus the next segment up who were put at risk simply because rents went to
  $800 and fuel prices doubled,'' Singelais said.


        Senior citizens are regular hot-line callers. ''There's a whole
other
  segment, the elderly, that no one is talking about,'' Singelais said.
 ''They
  are very impacted by fuel and prescription costs, and it is an almost
  impossible task to get into any type of elderly housing.''


        Several legislative efforts could chip away at a problem that began
  growing two decades ago when the federal government cut back funds for
  subsidized housing.


        Larsen has sponsored a bill that would share future increases in
 money
  from the rooms and meals tax only with communities that do their share to
  provide affordable housing. A bill is being filed to pay for more
shelters,
  and money is being sought for a homeless prevention program.


        ''The homeless prevention fund created last year didn't get funded
  because of the education funding problem,'' said Martha Yager, director of
  the Housing Forum, in Concord.


        The group is seeking $1 million per year from the state to match
  private money. The fund would help keep people in their homes. ''If a car
  dies or a kid is really sick, people could be facing eviction in the space
  of just a couple of months,'' Yager said. ''If we can intervene with $100
 or
  so per month to keep them where they are, it's a whole lot cheaper than
  placing them when they are homeless.''


        The forum is backing another bill requesting $5 million to subsidize
  the building of affordable housing. New Hampshire is now some 4,000 units
  short of what it needs to give the working poor a decent shot at renting
an
  apartment, she said.


        Mark McDonald, a large man of 56 who walks with the aid of a cane,
  rented the same house in Manchester for nine years before coming to live
at
  New Horizons. Last week, as the snow that buried central New Hampshire
 drove
  the homeless indoors, workers began preparing to spread mattresses on the
  cafeteria floor.


        ''I worked for the same guy for 20 years and I thought I would be
  there until I retired,'' said McDonald, a nonunion bricklayer. ''Never
once
  did I think I could be homeless. Next month it will be two years that I
 have
  been living here.''


        McDonald suffered a mild stroke that left him partially paralyzed.
He
  improved but not enough to go back to work. ''What happened is I had the
  stroke on a weekend, so the man from the insurance company said `We don't
  pay for something that happens on weekends,''' he said. ''When you are a
  working man you figure you have health insurance full time, not just on
the
  weekends, but they wouldn't pay.''


        McDonald's longtime companion left him when he became homeless.
 ''When
  finances change, relationships change too. I was making $800 a week and
now
  I get $500 a month, peanuts,'' he said of his Social Security disability
  check.


        Waiting lists for subsidized housing in New Hampshire are measured
in
  years, not months, homeless advocates said. The day before the storm,
  McDonald went to Nashua to fill out an application for a unit in an
  affordable housing complex. ''I lost my bed here because I went to Nashua,
  so I'm on the floor now,'' he said. ''It's rough man, it's really rough.''


        This story ran on page 01 of the Boston Globe's New Hampshire Weekly
  on 2/11/2001.
   Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.