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Homelessness Declining But...
 
Published Tuesday, May 2, 2017
by SCOTT MURPHY

Despite finding an overall decline in the Granite State’s homelessness population, the NH Coalition to End Homelessness (NHCEH) 2016 annual report identified statewide increases in rental costs and low vacancy rates as hindrances to further progress.

NHCEH, a Manchester nonprofit, has published an annual State of Homelessness report since 2012. This year’s data shows NH’s homeless rate dropped 18 percent between 2010 and 2016, from 1,612 people to 1,317.

There have also been statewide decreases among specific populations of homeless people since 2010, including a 17 percent decline in homeless families; a 3 percent decline in homeless veterans; a 4 percent decline in unsheltered homeless people; and a 27 percent decline in temporary double-ups, or individuals who are currently living with a friend or family member.

But declines vary by county, and not every county has experienced an overall decline. While both Coos and Merrimack counties roughly halved their homeless populations (53 and 46 percent decreases, respectively), Grafton County experienced a decline of just 9 percent. Strafford County is the only county to experience an overall increase in homelessness, which jumped 20 percent since 2010.

According to data from NHCEH’s reports, Strafford County had the most difficulty reducing homelessness levels due to reverberations from the early days of the Great Recession. And Strafford County faces other challenges. While the number of uninsured statewide rose 8 percent between 2009 and 2010, Strafford saw a 27 percent increase, the largest of any county in the state. Additionally, Strafford had among the highest foreclosure rates, with one of every 123 housing units in foreclosure.

Statewide, two specific homeless populations have increased: chronic homelessness rose 11 percent between 2012 and 2016, and student homelessness went up 6 percent between the 2010-2011 and 2015-2016 academic years, a total of 3,350 homeless school-aged children.

Erin Kelly, director of the Runaway and Homeless Youth program at Child and Family Services of NH (CFS) in Manchester, says data includes any student from kindergarten to 12th grade who does not have a stable place to live, as well as families who are doubled up and students who are couch surfing. “Although unemployment in New Hampshire is down, many individuals are not earning a livable wage even working more than one job,” says Kelly. “Many families who faced economic struggles throughout the recession damaged their credit scores and are being passed up for housing after credit checks.”   

Helping Homeless Youth
NHCEH focuses on providing education opportunities for homeless students, offering $2,000 in educational grants with its 2017 Hope Starts Here Scholarship program. New Hampshire students who have experienced homelessness during their school career are eligible, and may use the funds to help continue their education through college or post-secondary vocational training programs.

CFS offers several programs to assist homeless youth. The organization provides immediate aid, shelter and counseling services at a drop-in center in Manchester, as well as transitional living homes in Concord, Dover, Littleton and Manchester.

On-the-ground efforts include a street team, which mobilizes 30 hours per week to directly work with at-risk youth. CFS also coordinates with police departments, schools and other service providers to reach more students. These efforts helped support more than 2,000 homeless NH youths in 2016.

“With the needs of at-risk youth and the complexity of their problems on the rise, community resources and opportunities on the decline and the future of young lives and communities at stake, we’re at a critical juncture,” says Maria Gagnon, senior vice president of Child and Family Services. “We must be creative, proactive and fearless in how we’re going to address youth homelessness.”

Lack of Affordable Housing
Among the barriers to lowering homeless rates identified by NHCEH is NH's median household renter income. Between 2012 and 2016, a 6 percent increase in renter income to $37,949 was outpaced by an 11 percent growth in the state's median gross rent to $1,206 a month.

Additionally, vacancy rates for two-bedroom apartments dropped 53 percent during the same period to 1.5 percent in 2016, with the report noting that a “healthy vacancy rate is normally around 5 percent.” NHCEH says these factors “further narrow an already sparse market of affordable housing.”

To help combat the struggle of people trying to attain and maintain affordable housing options, NHCEH will be launching the NH Homeless Research program to engage with faculty and students across NH to further analyze NH homelessness.

“Research consistently shows that combining affordable housing with tenancy support services and care coordination can help those with the greatest challenges,” says Cathy Kuhn, director of NHCEH. “Ending homelessness in New Hampshire will require additional investment and renewed commitment to the creation of a robust housing stock.”


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