William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sat, 13 Aug 2005 02:02:34 -0400


Number Of Homeless People On The Rise

By PAUL HAYES, Staff Writer
Saturday August 13, 2005


Forty-nine-year-old carpenter Dan Sovinksy arrived in Littleton with the
clothes on his back and $10 in his pocket.

Unable to find a homeless shelter, he took refuge in the Remich Park
baseball dugout, where he slept for three bone-chilling nights in early

On the final night he was awakened by a skunk, rooting through a nearby
garbage can at 2:30 a.m. When the startled skunk turned to spray, Sovinsky -
freezing and starving - pleaded his case.

"I told him, 'Things are bad enough, don't squirt me,'" Sovinsky said.

The skunk didn't squirt, but Sovinsky - desperate and delirious with
hunger - walked back and forth along Main Street and contemplated crimes
that would get him arrested and placed in a warm jail cell.

"I walked past the police department three or four times," Sovinsky said.
"It crossed my mind to find a place to trespass just to be arrested."

In the North Country and Northeast Kingdom few homeless shelters cater to
single adults, particularly men.

There are approximately four shelters in northern New Hampshire and three in
northern Vermont, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development and other sources. Only two of these facilities are confirmed to
accept single adults.

The problem is expected to become far worse if town officials in Lancaster
are successful in shutting down the Lynsey House, the region's only
emergency homeless shelter.

"Without the shelter I don't think they understand what will happen to the
town," said Joie Finley-Morris, homeless outreach coordinator for the
Tri-County Community Action Program in Berlin, N.H. "You don't see people on
the sidewalks in the North Country, and the reason is because they have the
Lynsey House."

Work Camp

Homeless outreach worker Woody Miller does not operate an official homeless
shelter, but over the past 10 years he has occasionally taken people into
his Easton home when shelters are full.

Sovinsky was one such person. He met Miller the day after wandering through
downtown Littleton, and spent the next two weeks working as a handyman at a
tennis camp run by Miller in exchange for food and shelter.

Since then he has worked under area contractors, and scraped together enough
money to afford one month's rent and deposit for a Littleton apartment and a
one month gym membership.

"My prayers were answered," Sovinsky said. "He kept me busy working, he went
above and beyond the call of duty, he's a hell of a man."

Miller has plans to expand his work-for-shelter approach through the
creation of a work farm somewhere in the North Country, which would allow
homeless people to earn money - the first step in putting their lives back
together/work toward self-sufficiency - and would provide other mentally ill
people with a permanent home.

No location has yet been identified for the proposed work camp program.

Finley-Morris worked at a similar facility, Meeting Ground Homeless
Community in Maryland, and said it provided mentally ill people, who don't
thrive in traditional rental situations, with a safe haven.

"[Mentally ill people] often don't like people close to them," Finley-Morris
said. "Put someone with mental illness in the middle of a rental apartment
complex and it's a recipe for disaster."

Miller's work farm plan is in the conceptual stage, and while it has found
support among other local homeless officials, project funding has been
difficult to come by, Finley-Morris said.

"It would be nice," Finley-Morris said. "But there is no money."

The Coming Storm

The homeless population at the Good Samaritan Haven shelter in Barre, Vt.,
is double what it normally is, and all signs indicate the region is
approaching a homelessness crisis, according to executive director Paul

Mascitti said the shelter - the only one serving Vermont's Northeast
Kingdom - is filled above capacity, with three people staying outside in
tents, while others sleep on the floor.

With home heating fuel and gasoline prices rising, Mascitti is concerned
people will be unable to keep their homes heated and their cars running
during the coming winter months.

In addition he is concerned that local salaries do not provide many people
with a livable wage. He said he recently met a convenience store clerk who
held day, night and weekend jobs to make ends meet.

He said he has seen an influx of working class people come to his shelter.
Every morning he wakes up shelter residents at 6 a.m., and by that time
about seven have already left for their jobs.

The situation is similar at the Lynsey House, which reported an increase in
single adults seeking shelter. So far this month nearly a dozen people had
been turned away from the Lynsey House because of a lack of space, and most
were single men.

"That's exactly what's happening, people are scrambling to stay even,"
Mascitti said. "I'm not trying to sensationalize this because the facts are
sensational enough."

The Invisible Population

The homeless population is not easy to identify.

Many homeless people live with friends or relatives and do not appear in
shelters, according to several state and local officials.

In addition, the homeless population migrates to campgrounds during the
summer months.

Available statistics indicate the homeless problem is on the rise due to a
regional decrease in affordable housing and rental units.

"Last year our [homeless population] was very heavy, but we put that down to
it being a very rainy summer," Mascitti said. "But this year has not been
that kind of weather, yet we are seeing more [homeless people] than last

The number of bed nights provided - defined as one person sheltered for one
night - have increased in New Hampshire and Vermont over the past year.

A New Hampshire annual report on homelessness, for the year ending June
2004, said the number of bed nights provided increased 10 percent to
331,739, while the average length of stay rose 8 percent to 49.7 nights.

Vermont officials reported 104,326 bed nights and an average length of stay
of 28.6 nights.

Mascitti said the solution to the regional homeless problem was not to build
more shelters, but to create more jobs and housing.

Sovinsky, however, said the lack of public transportation was more of a
problem than a lack of local jobs.

"Anybody can work if they want to work," Sovinsky said. "But there are no
bus lines for me to get anywhere."

He said he plans to travel to either Las Vegas or San Diego when his lease
expires later this month because he said there was "a lot of work" in those
areas for a hard-working carpenter like himself.

In the meantime, Sovinsky said more shelters were needed to provide people
with emergency housing.

"[Littleton] is beautiful, the people are nice, but no one wants to help,"
Sovinsky said. "There should be some kind of shelter so, when a person is
down and out, they can work, earn money and go on to where they want to go."

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