LACONIA — In the Lakes Region, as elsewhere, stereotypes about homelessness abound.
The picture many people have is of someone who is either drunk or high on drugs, huddled in the doorway of a building, or curled up in an ATM vestibule.
But Bill Johnson says that situation, while certainly real, describes only a small fraction of the homeless population in Laconia and its surrounding communities.
A majority of the homeless people — or those at risk of becoming homeless — are people who have been impacted by the economy. Most often they are people who have lost their jobs and so they have fallen behind in their rent or mortgage payments and may have other overdue bills.
"Homelessness is not the problem, it's the result of a problem," says Johnson, who coordinates financial assistance provided by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic volunteer organization that helps the poor and disadvantaged in Laconia, Gilford, Meredith, Belmont, Alton and Gilmanton.
Johnson, who has been involved with the St. Vincent de Paul operation in Laconia since the mid-1990s, says he has seen homelessness become a major issue in the Lakes Region only in the last half dozen years or so.
"When we started (the organization) we'd seldom get a call about homelessness. But since 2007 or 2008 the problem has grown — and it's changed," he said. Johnson says what he is typically seeing is "the new homeless."
"Many have never been in financial trouble before. These are typically families; there are children involved," he said.
As the problem has grown, so has the public's awareness. Toward that end various agencies and faith-based groups are convening to discuss the issue of homelessness and the services that homeless people need. The event on Monday, Feb. 17, at the Laconia Middle School, is open to the general public. In addition to open discussion, the event will include a meal and the showing of a 30-minute documentary film ("Inocente") about a teen-age girl who rises above her homeless situation to find hope and fulfillment.
Johnson sees the real challenge is trying to help those who are on the brink of becoming homeless before they are actually forced out onto the street, or living in their cars or have to turn to friends or relatives to take them in.
"If we can catch them when they are at-risk then there is a chance of a much better outcome," he said. "Maybe we can help them work out an arrangement to get caught up with their back rent or mortgage payments or utility bills. You need to try if all possible to keep them in their house."
Johnson said that St. Vincent de Paul, which provides between $130,000 and $140,000 a year in financial assistant to the needy, is just one of the local organizations that is "working in the trenches" to help alleviate the problem of homelessness. Other organizations that commit significant financial resources in the city are the Salvation Army and St. Andre Bessette Parish, he noted.
To deal with homelessness effectively requires coordination among various government and non-profit agencies and various community groups. "Collaboration becomes extremely important between (local) welfare offices, agencies, churches and the like," said Johnson who in addition to his responsibilities with the St. Vincent de Paul Society also serves as president of Neighbors in Need, a non-profit organization that provides funds to agencies and churches which deal with people in need.
The two most important points of contact for dealing with homeless situations, says Johnson, are the individual municipal welfare offices and the office of the Belknap County Homeless Coordinator which is part of the Community Action Program. Another important local resource is the Continuum of Care, he added.
"Cooperation and coordination are so important," said Johnson, "not just to make sure you get the resources these people need, but that you don't do something to make the problem worse."
Because homelessness differs greatly from one case to another makes integrated and coordinated services all the more critical.
"Not every homeless situation is the same. It's not a cookie cutter sort of thing," said Johnson.
Last Updated on Friday, 31 January 2014 01:37
CONCORD — In the race for the Executive Council in District 1, Democrat Michael Cryans of Hanover is raising more money from more contributors than Republican Joe Kenney of Wakefield according to the most recent reports of receipts and expenditures filed with the New Hampshire Secretary of State yesterday.
In the last two weeks, Cryans raised $20,002 from 152 contributors, only two of whom donated $500 or more to his campaign. Since he began his campaign Cryans has collected $70,154 from 521 contributors, 95 percent of whom are residents of New Hampshire. Cryans, who had no opponent in the primary election, reported total expenditures of $10,201, including $8,139 in the past two weeks, leaving a balance of $59,953.
Meanwhile, Kenney raised $14,805 from 61 contributors since January 15, including a loan of $10,000 from his own pocket. Since he announced his candidacy, Kenney has raised $55,715, which includes $30,000 in loans he has made to his campaign and $8,200 in in-kind contributions, among them $5,000 from Casey Crane, a member of his campaign staff, leaving $17,515 in cash donations. Kenney has spent $21,739 and has $33,976 in hand.
Cryans, who has served as Grafton County Commissioner since 1997, and Kenney, a retired colonel in the United States Marine Corps who spent 14 years in the Legislature and was the Republican nominee for governor in 2008, are vying to succeed the late Ray Burton in a special election.
The election will be held on Tuesday, March 11, town meeting day across the state.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 January 2014 02:26
GILFORD — Lakeside Deli and Pizza of Laconia and Sal's Pizza of Belmont were the popular vote winners in the First Annual Pizza Bowl hosted by the Gilford Rotary Club at the Gilford Youth Center Sunday afternoon.
Lakeside won the People's Choice Award by popular vote and also won an award from a panel of judge's for its chicken kabob specialty pizza.
Sals Pizza won three awards, the Kids Choice award from those 8 and under, as well as being chosen by the judges for Best Crust and Best Sauce.
Gilford House of Pizza was the choice of the judges for Best Cheese.
Other pizza purveyors taking part included Papa Gino's, Pizza Express, Weirs Beach Lobster Pound, and Gilford Village Store. Additional support and beverages were provided by Lakes Region Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and Shaw's Supermarket.
''We had a good turnout with a lot of families showing up for what was a really fun event,'' said Don Clarke of the Gilford Rotary Club.
He thanked the pizza makers who took part and said that the club was very grateful for their participation in what is sure to become a popular annual event.
Lander and Sebastian Jones got to enjoy themselves by trying a variety of different pizzas at the first-ever Pizza Bowl sponsored by the Gilford Rotary Club which was held Sunday at the Gilford Youth Center. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Judges for the first ever Pizza Bowl, held Sunday at the Gilford Youth Center, tried out dozens of slices of pizza as part of their official duties. The event was sponsored by the Gilford Rotary Club. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 January 2014 02:07
Local rep's bills to draw bright lines defining county budget authority get hearings before lawmakers
CONCORD — With the Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commission in the midst of preparing the 2014 county budget, the H.H. House Municipal and County Government Committee held public hearings this week on legislation intended to resolve the dispute between the two that has riled county government for the past year.
Two members of the convention — Representatives Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, and Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of its Executive Committee, — introduced bills to clarify the authority of the convention and the commission over the budget. John Thomas, the chairman of the commission spoke against both bills.
The Republican majority of the convention insists that the convention can rewrite the budget recommended by the commission by adding or deleting, raising or lowering appropriations for particular line items. Moreover, they claim that any reallocation of funds within the budget must be approved by the Executive Committee of the convention.
On the other hand, the commissioners claim that the convention can only itemize appropriations among departments and purposes and that the commission can shuffle funds between lines within these categories without the approval of the convention.
Both bills would apply solely to Belknap County and codify the budgetary authority claimed by the majority of the convention. Of the two, House Bill 1373, sponsored by Worsman is the most aggressive and expansive.
Worsman's bill would affirm the authority of the convention to itemize appropriations "in detail, including specific lines within each department," and require the commissioners to seek the approval of the executive committee to transfer funds in any amount either between specific lines within a single department or from one department to another. Her bill would further provide that the convention may take the commissioners to court to enforce the law and if they are found in violation, remove them from office.
Speaking in support of her bill, Worsman recalled that in 2013, after the convention stripped appropriations to fund some employee benefits, the commissioners drew funds from 91 other lines to fund 27 accounts the convention left empty. Among these lines, she said, was an appropriation the convention authorized to pay legal fees incurred by the Register of Deeds in litigation brought by the commission. Worsman also claimed that the commission used the contingency account as "a slush fund."
Like HB-1373, House Bill 1120, sponsored by Tilton, would provide the convention with line-item authority over the budget and require the approval of the executive committee for any and all transfers of funds from one line to another.
Speaking against the bills, Thomas said that the convention was seeking to arrogate management of the day-to-day operations of the county, which is the responsibility of the commission, to itself. The authority of the convention, he explained, is confined to appropriations while the commission is responsible for expenditures in the course of administering and managing the services the county provides. For the Executive Committee to approve all transfers of funds within departments when "priorities change or emergencies come up," he said would be "cumbersome" and "affect the ability to provide efficient services." The commissioners, he stressed "must have flexibility to manage the budget and mange it quickly."
George Maglaras, who has served on the Strafford County Commission since 1983 and as its chairman since 1987, told the committee that both bills were "unnecessary." The current statutes allow county conventions and commissions to establish a format and process for managing the budget. He cautioned against granting the convention line-item authority, which he said would lead department heads and county commissioners to inflate their budgets in order to avoid the cumbersome process of requesting transfers.
Maglaras described the situation in Belknap County as "a political problem, " adding that "there are all kinds of ways of skinning the cat." Calling the proposed legislation "ill-advised," he warned "don't tie your hands."
Representative Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton), an outspoken and persistent critic of Worsman's leadership of the convention, said that "I've been here for 11 terms and I've never seen anything like this," adding "it's just a mess up there." Several times he charged the leadership of the convention with "micro-managing" and declared "we should do our job and let the commissioners do theirs. They do a wonderful job."
The few questions posed by members of the committee bore on how the proposals would impact the operations of the county. Representative Tim Copeland (R-Stratham), who serves on the executive committee of the Rockingham County Convention, said that his committee meets only a few times a year and suggested the process Worsman and Tilton proposed appeared "very cumbersome."
Representative Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough), who chairs the Municipal and County Government Committee, asked Worsman how the convention and its executive committee could respond to "emergency situations" given the logistics of scheduling and posting meetings. "I can't answer that question," Worsman replied."
Portter said that she expected the committee to vote on the bills next week when they would be reported to the full House for a vote, most likely the following week.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 January 2014 01:54
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