LACONIA — About 100 people from various walks of life came together last Monday night at the Hope for the Homeless event that featured the award-winning short film "Inocente," — about the daughter of a homeless illegal immigrant mother and an abusive father who abandoned his family who finds strength and courage through her artistic ability.
Held in the cafeteria of the Middle School, people ate a soup and sandwich meal, watched the movie, and then broke up into groups to discuss three core questions: what did you feel when you say this and why; what surprised you; and what is possible in Laconia and the surrounding area.
In other words, "What would Inocente find if she were to come to Laconia."
According to those who spoke, Inocente would find the Belknap County Coalition for the Homeless — accessible by dialing 2-1-1.
She and he mother and two younger brothers would find help from New Beginnings which operates an open shelter for abused spouses and their children. For those in need of privacy or who are being threatened, New Beginning arranges for private shelters as well.
There is the Salvation Army's Carey House shelter that holds four apartments for families, some help from the guidance department in the Laconia School District that employs a homeless coordinator whose only job is to help identify and help those who are tacitly homeless and privately get the the services they need.
For many who watched the movie, they were surprised that Inocente didn't tell her fellow students that she was homeless.
For the professionals, they weren't surprised by that, saying that homelessness could be stigmatizing and sometimes students who are in their teens just aren't sensitive enough to others to understand what's different.
At the high school level, a student group called Freedom Found is trying to address some of the bullying and ostracism that can come with being poor.
The group meets together regularly and is accepting of everyone who wants to join.
Working with a guidance counselor, the group works against bullying and many of its members were at Monday's meeting working with the adults in their individual sessions.
At least one homeless person joined the group. "J" said his homelessness is caused by alcoholism.
Clean and sober for about 30 days now, "J" spends Monday mornings with the River Art Crew and many of his painting were on display at the event.
"I've been homeless on and off for 20 years," he said. When asked how he got by, he said "he would go where the booze was" he sold his food stamps, and pan-handled.
He said he slept under bridges, in tents, car lots, and hallways or on people's couches.
About the one thing many agreed was needed in Laconia was an emergency cold-weather shelter and more family shelters like the four apartments offered by the Carey House.
Mike Bernier of the Community Action Center said in his first years as a homeless advocate he found most of the chronically homeless were single people, many of whom had mental illnesses and drug and/or alcohol problems.
Recently, he said he seeing more families. He said landlords themselves are dealing with foreclosures, there is little affordable housing in Laconia, and there are very few jobs that pay a living wage.
"It's a perfect storm," he said.