[Hpn] Homeless but hopeful:Woman lives by herself under tarp, but she is hardly alone
Morgan W. Brown
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 00:43:33 -0500
Came across the below forwarded article posted by activist Bill Tinker on
the highly active New Hampshire Homeless discussion list
<http://www.newhampshirehomeless.org> of which Bill is list owner. According
to another NH Homeless list member, Bill's computer had crashed for a time;
but he is back online now. I am not a NH Homeless list member myself, since
I am already on too many lists already, though I do visit their list
archives as a reader.
Morgan W. Brown
Monday, November 19, 2001
Concord Monitor <http://www.concordmonitor.com>
[Concord, New Hampshire]
Homeless but hopeful
Woman lives by herself under a tarp, but she is hardly alone
Monday, November 19, 2001
She walked the edge of the cornfield with her coat unzipped last week,
dipped her water jugs into the Merrimack without gloves. She let the fire go
out beside her bed and tidied the yard around her blue tarp teepee.
There is no calendar on her plastic walls, no radio delivering the latest
weather report. But Elizabeth Demeritt knew this might be the last brush of
warmth before the cold comes for good.
And when you live in a blue tarp teepee, there is nothing good about the
"It's been hard," said Demeritt, who set up residence in a fringe of trees
along the river about a month ago. "But it's better than no home at all."
Technically speaking, Demeritt has no home at all. She's part of an
alarmingly sizable population whose plights are becoming des-
perate as winter sets in.
"We've been getting calls from homeless folks for months now," said Michelle
French Labreque, director of McKenna House, an emergency shelter run by the
Both McKenna House and the Friends emergency shelter have been full for
months. The housing market is as tight as ever, and the city is currently
housing 12 families in motels. Next week, when the Winston Cup race collides
with Thanksgiving and a possible cold front, homeless workers wonder where
they'll send those who come to them for help.
Not everyone is like Demeritt.
As a child, Demeritt loved to visit her aunt at her rustic log cabin in
Sutton. She built teepees with her cousins in the woods and listened to her
aunt's tips on outdoor survival. Her grandmother taught her how to build a
Thirty years later, those skills are coming in handier than Demeritt had
imagined. "I'm a survivor," she said.
Evicted from her apartment four years ago, Demeritt has struggled to find
housing ever since. With her husband in and out of jail, she's been in and
out of a half-dozen apartments - and on the street in between. A neck injury
forced her to leave her job at a shelving company a couple of months ago,
she says, and ruined her hopes of finding a decent place to live.
As her money ran out, Demeritt started eating at the soup kitchen, where she
met a man who said he lived down in the cornfield by the river. He invited
her to his place, and proudly showed off his teepee and clay-mortar
fireplace. A few weeks later, he was sent to prison on a minor charge.
Thinking over her prospects, Demeritt decided to lay claim to her friend's
campsite. She purchased three or four tarps and a ladder, and snugged the
material over the bare bones of the teepee. She furnished the tiny house
with her few belongings - a chair, a shelving unit, some garbage bags full
of clothes - and made a bed out of wooden pallets, a futon cushion and a
pile of blankets and towels. Outside the teepee, she put up a mirror and a
cardboard American flag.
Each morning Demeritt smooths her blankets and tidies her house. She gathers
kindling wood along the quarter-mile strip of trees leading from her
campsite to Loudon Road. Then she rides her bicycle to her church, Word of
Life Christian Fellowship, to pick up food, or goes to a friend's house to
take a shower.
A gray-haired woman with soft brown eyes and neat, clean clothes, Demeritt
could not easily be picked out of a crowd as a homeless person. There is
only the smell of wood smoke in her hair and clothes to hint at her plight.
In a circle of stones a few feet from her bed, Demeritt builds a fire each
night. "It's not bad," she said. "On real cold nights, it's nice and warm in
It is lonely too, though, and frightening. A raccoon wandered into the
teepee once in the middle of the night, prompting Demeritt to put up a
She also spends a lot of time praying and listening to her pastor's sermons
on her Walkman. "It helps ease my mind," she said.
Demeritt isn't sure how long she'll call this bundle of branches and tarps
home. She hopes to get a job, save enough money to pay the $600 in back rent
that would clear her name and rent a decent apartment. When her friend gets
out of jail, she hopes to help him find one, too.
"I've learned a lot out here," she said. "I've found myself."
Housing and homelessness experts don't know how many people like Demeritt
are out there. The only homeless people they can accurately count are the
ones who come to various agencies for help. Those numbers alone have them
"It is certainly no better this year. I think it's getting worse," said
Concord Welfare Director Jackie Whatmough. "I've been doing this for a long
time, and I don't remember this many people without housing."
Mike Riley, director of homeless services for the Friends Program, is trying
to keep better tabs on homeless people this year by taking down basic
information such as name, family size, and current situation, from people
who call or come in for assistance. "If we have a handle on who's out there
. . . that gives us an idea of the intensity of the problem," Riley said.
There's no question, though, that there is a problem. "In our experience,
the numbers are increasing," he said.
With the inevitable cold and snow approaching, shelters are bracing for
another influx. McKenna House is preparing to re-open the 28-bed emergency
shelter constructed last year - but probably not in time for next week's
potential crunch. And when it does open, it will likely fill quickly. At
McKenna House, people have been sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Workers
already have a call-back list of people in need, and are scrambling for
volunteers, food and money to meet the needs of the overflow shelter.
"We are in a crisis," French Labreque said.
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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