Extra inexpensive housing and understanding particular person wants will assist assist these experiencing homelessness in Harmony
There are two immediate solutions to address the current status of homelessness in Concord. The first is to understand the unique circumstances of each individual’s housing situation, including their lived experiences that may have led them to homelessness. The second is to build more affordable housing.
These solutions were presented to business owners at the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce’s monthly forum. This month, the luncheon sought to address a question – “What does housing instability mean for individuals, youth, and families in the Capital Region?”
To answer the question, local agency workers spoke to the challenges their clients face with the current rental market in Concord and ways to help support a transition into stable housing.
Understanding individual stories
The first step to understanding solutions to homelessness is meeting people where they are, according to Connor Spern.
Spern, who is the outreach coordinator at the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, often walks through homeless encampments, meets people at their cars or talks to them under bridges to learn their backstory. Understanding what led each person to housing instability helps better inform solutions to transition people into housing.
“There is no one story or situation that has led people to be here and every single person out here is an individual they have individual stories, individual barriers, individual family members, institutions, circumstances that have led them to be here,” she said .
It also reminds Spern that these people also have individual preferences. Some may feel that they’ve made their space – whether it be a car or tent – feel like home. Some may resist help because they are fearful of rejection from housing agencies or rehashing the trauma they’ve experienced in their housing instability.
Understanding these individual stories is one way that the coalition is gaining a better understanding of how many people in Concord are experiencing long-term homelessness. The information is formally collected as the coalition builds out a “by name list” – a strategy used across the country to integrate more data and individual stories in understanding the transition for people in and out of homelessness.
Spern encouraged the business community to reconsider their perspective of the unhoused community in the city beyond one generalized understanding of homeless people as a single entity.
“That grouping is dehumanizing. And I think it eliminates the individual stories,” she said. “So, again, that outreach is the beginning of that process of making sure we’re building rapport with people.”
Kadyja Harris knows this to be true through her personal experiences. Throughout her childhood, she and her family faced housing instability. She never had a place to call home, she said. This insecurity stemmed from her parents substance abuse issues.
Harris first moved out on her own at the age of 17-years-old, when her parents were both arrested. Her sister, who is disabled, moved in with her grandmother. But there was not enough room for her as well, so she began to float place to place.
Now Harris is the co-director of the Youth Success Project, which focuses on lived experiences of people who have experienced homelessness under the age of 25-years-old, and empowers them to contribute to solutions.
Harris shared her personal experiences with Concord’s business community as an example of a success story transitioning out of housing instability. With a continuous, safe place to live, she was able to pursue academics and start a family, she said.
She completed her associate’s degree in addiction counseling while unhoused. She has since gotten a bachelor’s degree in Human Services and is now pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice. Her goal is to work as a substance abuse counselor for criminal offenders in reentry.
Increasing affordable housing
The next solution: build more affordable housing in Concord.
The current housing market, with rental vacancy at a low of 0.3% in Merrimack County, adds another level of discouragement to the unhoused community. Even when apartments are available, there are dozens of applicants looking to rent.
Then, when high rent, background checks, credit scores and application fees come together, the barriers to securing an apartment put people ten steps behind the next person in line.
“It’s really like survival of the fittest,” said Lauren Berman-Lefebvre, the housing director for Families in Transition.
There is a need for more units and also for landlords to be more accepting of housing choice vouchers, understanding past rental and criminal records, said Berman-Lefebvre.
Families in Transition has 240 units across Manchester, Concord and Dover. But the wait list to move into one of these properties is over a year long.
The support to help people when they are housed is already in place, according to Beth Heyward, who does strategy and planning for the Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties.
Concord is unique in that there is an established network of partnerships, she said.
Through the outreach of services in the area, it means that when someone is housed that is not the end of the road for their services. Instead, it is the first step in a longer process of ensuring they remain with a roof over their head – from child support to nutritional assistance.
The coalition also provides its own permanent housing with properties on Green Street and Pleasant Street in Concord. The next step is scaling these efforts to provide more concrete housing options in the area.
The city will see more affordable housing developments soon – with the construction of the Rail Yard project on Langdon Ave providing 96 new units and Penacook Landing adding 18 units to the housing stock.
But Heyward calls the direct plea for more affordable housing in the area the “10,000 ft view.” To get there, it requires collaborations between businesses, developers and landlords.
“We need transitional housing. We need bigger and more and more affordable housing. That’s what’s gonna help us get out of this. And that’s really hard,” she said. “That is not a simple fix. That is a multi-year thing and working with businesses, working with developers, working with landlords, that’s how we do that.”
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