LACONIA — The COVID-19 crisis has shown that homelessness damages the well-being of the whole community.
That was the message that housing advocates across the state had for U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen at a virtual meeting Thursday focusing on the housing crisis that working families, and individuals experiencing homelessness across the state are facing during the coronavirus pandemic.
But for efforts to combat homelessness to be effective there must be programs which support not only those who are already homeless, but those who may be on the brink of having no place to live.
Many of the participants spoke about the need for supportive housing — which provides affordable housing with appropriate care services.
“Housing and supportive services have to come together,” said Ellen Groh, executive director of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness.
That is particularly challenging in areas such as the Lakes Region, where the ability to provide care services is more limited due to the smaller population concentration compared to the southern part of the state.
“We don’t have the same concentration of service providers,” Carmen Lorentz, executive of Lakes Region Community Developers, said.
She further pointed out that for concepts like supportive housing to be feasible there need to be the funds to pay people who would manage the programs.
“We need funds for staff,” Lorentz said. “And right now we don’t have staff for an additional facility.”
Katy Easterly Martey, the executive director of the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, said she hoped in future COVID relief legislation there would be mechanisms to allow for additional supportive funding for housing operations for a number of years to come.
“It takes five to ten years to get stability in these operations,” she said.
Shaheen said the COVID relief bill passed by Congress with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Donald Trump last month is a “bridge” to help for the next two months until the new Congress and the Biden administration can come up with a bigger relief package.
The latest bill contains $25 billion for housing assistance nationwide, plus $10 billion for child-care programs. It also provides those who are unemployed an additional $300 a month in additional unemployment benefits, and extends the moratorium on evictions through the end of the month.
“Homelessness was a problem in New Hampshire before the pandemic and the impact of this economic and health crisis have exacerbated conditions throughout the state,” Shaheen said. “As housing advocates and stakeholders made clear during (the virtual meeting), many working families are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage on top of other bills and necessities. ... While I’m glad our state is receiving aid (from the latest COVID relief bill), much more needs to be done to combat this housing crisis.”