[Hpn] Homeless but hopeful:Woman lives by herself under tarp, but she is hardly alone

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
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 <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont


-------Forwarded article-------

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 
Salvation Army.

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 
plywood "door."

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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-------End of forward-------

Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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