[Hpn] Homeless women given a chance to have decent affordable apartments

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Tue, 2 Dec 2003 09:14:42 -0500


Not just a new home, but a new life
Program will give 16 women apartments, training and hope
By MEG HECKMAN
Monitor Staff
December 2, 2003

Concord New Hampshire
More than two dozen homeless women are hoping to be the first to take
advantage of new reduced-rent apartments in Concord's Bicentennial Square.
Most of the women have children. A few are single. One or two are pregnant.
Sixteen will be selected for the program, which offers participants
counseling, job training and life-skills workshops to help get them off the
streets and out of shelters for good.
Over the summer, a Manchester-based nonprofit called Families in Transition
spent $2.8 million renovating two downtown buildings. While construction
crews put the finishing touches on the apartments this month, social workers
are meeting with prospective tenants in local welfare offices and shelters.
"While it's only 16 units . . . there are sixteen families who have their
own apartment and their own place to live tonight," said Maureen Beauregard,
the president of Families in Transition.
Once a women is enrolled in the program, she is given a case worker, a
starter-kit with things like mattresses, dishes and linens and a
reduced-rent apartment for up to two years. Participants are not allowed to
drink and must be either working, going to school or volunteering. Staff
members teach the women how to budget, save money, get food stamps and
health care, find jobs and, eventually, keep apartments of their own.
"They have to work pretty hard to stay here," Malone Steele, a grant writer
for Families in Transition, said during a tour of the Concord site
yesterday.
Work on the two buildings won't be done for a few weeks, but the clean white
walls, carpeted hallways and wide staircases are a far cry from the
dilapidated structures they once were.
"They're very old buildings," Beauregard said. "Basically the insides were
totally demolished down to the bare walls."
Most of the 16 apartments will have two bedrooms, but a few are designed for
single women. The ground-floor units are wheelchair-accessible. There's also
room for administrative offices, a computer lab and a conference room for
classes, counseling and workshops. Families in Transition also provides
programs for participants' children.
For the last 13 years, Families in Transition has been helping homeless
women in the Manchester area find stable jobs and affordable, permanent
places to live. Last year 23 single women and 64 moms with 132 kids were
enrolled in the Manchester program. Many of the women use the program to
escape abusive relationships. Others have full-time jobs but just can't
afford rent, child care and other living expenses.
Although the Concord program will be much smaller than its Manchester
counterpart, social service providers across the city agree it will provide
needed services.
"It's not just a Band-Aid," said Jackie Whatmough, the director of Concord's
Human Services Department. "It's got services connected with parenting,
computer skills. . . . It's very intense. They'll get the services that
they'll need; this will actually make their lives better"
"We have a gap in this community: affordable housing," said Michelle
French-Lebrecque, regional shelter director for the Salvation Army. "We get
bottlenecked. People who are ready to move out have nowhere to go because
there is no affordable housing."
McKenna House, the Salvation Army's Concord shelter, is so full some people
are sleeping on mattresses on the floor. The 16 apartments in Bicentennial
Square will free up beds and get people out of the system, French-Lebrecque
said. About 90 percent of women who complete the Families in Transition
program find permanent housing and stable jobs. Their children become better
adjusted and are less likely to end up in foster care.
"It's a godsend," she said.


Meg Heckman can be reached at 224-5301, ext. 313, or by e-mail at
mheckman@cmonitor.com








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