[Hpn] Support for homeless survey findings

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 29 Jul 2002 15:48:59 -0400

Support for homeless survey findingsMonday, July 29, 2002
By ANDREW NELSON, Telegraph Staff

NASHUA – On a typical Thursday last week, people in need were turning to the
Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter for a place to rest their head or find a meal,
only to be turned away.

“Our lines are growing bigger, and bigger, and bigger,” says Scott Slattery,
director of housing at the Chestnut Street shelter.

There were 34 people asking for 30 beds and nine families looking for help,
he said.

It reinforces what advocates for the homeless found during an annual survey
in the Nashua area this year, when they counted 743 homeless people.

Driving the issue are the often-mentioned shortage of affordable housing and
high rents, said Slattery, a member of the committee that conducted the
annual survey. “They are regular working people, but they cannot afford the
rent. It’s topped $1,000 for a two-bedroom (apartment.),” Slattery said,
adding that those prices are not for desirable neighborhoods in the city.

“It’s not fancy,” he said.

People who work on the issue say the numbers of homeless people are nearly
twice what the survey shows.

“We believe we can come to a pretty sound conclusion we have 1,500 people
homeless at one time,” said Klaas Nijhuis, of the Urban Programs Department
in the Community Development Division.

The survey was done on a day in late March by the social service providers
in the Continuum of Care. The count included Nashua along with nine
surrounding communities in Hillsborough County.

The weakness with the “point in time” survey is statistics can fluctuate
depending on relatively minor issues, such as the weather on that day, or
whether companies have recently let people go. It also counts people
strictly in the government definition of homeless – people without a roof
over their head – and not people “couch surfing” to sleep indoors, Nijhuis

It is done annually as one of the requirements to receive federal housing
assistance money. Shelters, outreach workers and organizations such as the
Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and school departments are all polled to
collect the numbers on that one day.

There has been some success in addressing the problem. Over the past year,
33 additional low-cost housing units opened up, and during the winter the
Continuum of Care network organized an emergency shelter. lso, the community
received $1 million in federal money earmarked to create affordable housing,
and in 2001 the Board of Aldermen set aside $100,000 for an affordable
housing trust fund.

Advocates are reluctant to consider recent counts to see trends, because
they think there are weaknesses in the counting procedure.

But over the past four counts, the number of homeless people has gone up,
from 492 in 1999 to 534 in 2000 and 646 in 2001 to the nearly 750 counted
this year.

“The number just gives us a basis for how much more we have to do,” said

Addressing the problem requires new homes, especially apartment complexes
with small apartments.

Nijhuis said between 150 to 200 small apartment units would be needed for
individuals, and about 200 homes for families.

And while homes in the area are being built, they usually sell for more than
$200,000, Slattery said. Housing costs are too high, according to the
government standard, for a large group of renters and homeowners.

According to the 2000 Census, about 32 percent of renters and 22 percent of
homeowners in New Hampshire paid a higher percentage of their income than
the government considers reasonable. The government standard is not more
than 30 percent of income used for housing costs.

“There’s nothing affordable south of Laconia,” Slattery said.

Andrew Nelson can be reached at 594-6415.

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2002
Article comment by: Lisa Christie, NSK&S executive director

Good article about lack of affordable housing. However, your first sentence
implies that the soup kitchen turns away people in need of a meal. We have
never, in our 21 year history, turned away someone who needed a meal because
we of a lack of capacity.

Portions © 2002, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire