[Hpn] Outreach worker mothers the North Countryís homeless
Mon, 24 Sep 2001 11:01:59 -0400
Monday, September 24, 2001
Who is homeless?
Outreach worker mothers the North Countryís homeless
By J.M. HIRSCH
Associated Press Writer
LANCASTER, N.H. (AP) ó Some days Kim Alcantara feels as though she has
hundreds of children ó hundreds of unruly teen-agers who make bad decisions
and arenít sure where their lives are headed.
Actually, she and her husband have only four, and they tend to be pretty
The rest of her "children" are the homeless of New Hampshireís northernmost
county, a diverse and ever-changing mass of people of every age, whose lives
have unraveled for more reasons than most care to count.
They need help, but many are too proud to ask for it. Lucky for them,
Alcantaraís job is to make sure they do.
"You feel sorriest for the children, who have no recourse but to follow
their parents around," she said in a recent interview. "Theyíve been
sleeping in the back of the car with the dog and the cat for the last month
because the parents havenít swallowed their pride and asked for help."
Alcantara is a homeless outreach worker for Tri-County Community Action
Program, a North Country social service agency. She is responsible for all
of Coos County ó all 1,855 square miles of it.
Thatís a lot of miles and a lot of people for one person. She estimates she
has the time and budget to help only 150 families a year, probably less than
half the number that need it.
Like a mother, she encourages, coddles and prods. But sheís also firm and
asks difficult questions. Why havenít they looked for a job? Why didnít they
apply for food stamps?
She helps some by hiking through dense woods to their camps and persuading
them to seek shelter. Others she sits down with once a month to help figure
out their budgets and pay bills.
Her days and nights are punctuated by calls for help. She is paid for 40
hours a week but often puts in closer to 70.
"They encourage me to do things like turn the pager off, but I canít," she
said. "People arenít homeless between 9 and 5. I canít in all good
conscience crawl into bed and say, ĎOh, the family will be fine in the
On a recent day, a call comes in about a disabled man in Stewartstown. He is
living in a mobile home with no heat, power or water and he wonít go to a
shelter. And winter isnít far off.
Twenty minutes later she has an apartment for him. But his belongings are
being held by a storage company for back rent and she canít afford to spring
it for him.
So she makes a deal. Sheíll get him an apartment if another agency gets him
furniture. But how to get it there?
"I have a husband with a truck," she told the woman at the other agency.
"And if I give them a pack of cigarettes and a sandwich, the guys at Lindsey
House (a nearby homeless shelter) will always help."
The next stop is a campground in nearby Whitefield. During warm months, this
is where she parks families with nowhere else to turn. She has three there
She meets with a young couple who came north to start a new life, but
quickly ran out of money. Alcantara has been working with them for a few
weeks, ever since she found them camping in their car at a McDonaldís.
Nothing is going well. The woman lacks paperwork she needs to get a job, the
man hasnít looked for one. They havenít registered their son for school. And
they havenít finished the application for food stamps.
"How are you on gas?" Alcantara asks the man.
"Not good. I have half of a quarter of a tank and the front tire has a leak
and the spare is flat," he said. "Itís just one thing after another."
Alcantara is frustrated. Sheís helped them before and told them what they
needed to do.
"I bought them a newspaper last week so they could look for an apartment,"
she said later. "I had to physically come down and buy the paper. But what
was he doing with a cigarette in his mouth if they canít afford the 50 cents
for a newspaper? What are they thinking? I just makes you mad," she said.
"But you just keep smiling along."
She writes them a detailed list of everything they need to do that day. She
isnít sure they will do it, but sends them on their way.
"Eat your pride and take care of those children," she tells them in an
imaginary lecture. "Donít wait until youíre actually thinking of stealing
that candy bar. Because once youíve got to that point, youíve developed
habits your children will easily learn ó and then weíve got another
generation that canít care for itself."
© 2001 Geo. J. Foster Co.