Eight new Hampshire mayors call for more state action on homelessness crisis

Eight New Hampshire mayors are making a unified call for Gov. Chris Sununu and state officials to take more action to help the state’s unhoused population.

“The state of New Hampshire’s systems of care for individuals experiencing or at-risk of homelessness are not meeting the needs of communities across the state and are contributing to a statewide homelessness crisis,” the mayors wrote in a letter sent Tuesday.

But in response to the letter, Sununu defended his policies and the investments already made and criticized cities like Manchester for not effectively using the funds they already have.

“The tone and misleading content contained in the Mayors’ letter is disappointing considering the team approach that is so important on an issue as critical as this,” the governor’s press team wrote in an email to NH Public Radio. “The state has made unprecedented investments to address this issue and continues to identify additional pathways.”

Eight of New Hampshire’s 13 mayors — including those in Manchester, Nashua, Claremont and Dover — signed onto the letter. The call for action comes after a series of incidents in Manchester that underscored the severity of the state’s homelessness crisis: Two unhoused people died last week, and a baby was hospitalized after his mother, who was unhoused, allegedly gave birth in frigid conditions. The mayors and other public officials say nonprofit organizations and community action programs that support the unhoused can’t handle the pace at which the state’s homelessness crisis is growing.

The American Friends Service Committee, which coordinates Homeless Persons Memorial Day efforts in New Hampshire, reported that at least 95 unhoused people died in 2022. According to the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness, the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness nearly tripled from 2019 to 2021. Housing rights advocates and public officials have reported that they’ve had to turn individuals away from their winter shelters because they don’t have enough beds available.

The mayors’ letter specifically criticized Sununu for not doing more to respond to an earlier letter from all 13 of the state’s mayors in 2020, in which they asked him to establish a state-wide collaborative effort for addressing homelessness.

“Two years have passed since this letter was received, and there has been no improvement in collaboration with local communities in addressing homelessness in New Hampshire,” the mayors’ latest letter reads.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who was the main author of the letter, said the state’s inadequate care systems have exacerbated the housing crisis across the state.

“There are gaps that need to be addressed in terms of providing services for substance use disorder, for mental health, for medical issues and severe trauma that individuals are suffering with,” Craig said. “We need the state to recognize that and provide opportunities from a statewide perspective for these individuals.”

The letter requests immediate funding and services, as winter shelters are struggling to keep up with increased demand. The mayors asked the state to open up more emergency shelter beds, medical services, and shelter for women and youth. They also asked the governor to consider bringing in the New Hampshire National Guard to help “adequately staff winter surge shelters.”

But the governor’s office rebuffed several of the mayors’ requests, stating that the request for support from the New Hampshire National Guard is “impossible.”

“The unprecedented request to call in the National Guard when federal funding hasn’t been spent by many of the municipalities who signed this letter is impossible,” Sununu’s office said in a statement.

Sununu’s team also said the state allocated $4 million to support shelters last fall, and that cities should reconsider their spending choices. The statement didn’t elaborate on if the state would give more funding and support for medical services, shelter for women or emergency shelter beds.

Dover Mayor Robert Carrier criticized Sununu for not taking enough action to support cities and towns.

“I don’t think he’s proactive enough with us at all,” Carrier said. “I think he has pockets of money that he’s able to funnel our way – to help all the homeless that way. And I don’t think he’s doing that.”

The mayors also asked the state to clarify which nonprofits are receiving funding to address homelessness issues and what funding has already been allocated.

“I think one thing that we’re looking for is sort of a unified, transparent response from the state that is using evidence-based solutions to address some of the issues that we’re all facing,” said Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer. “Right now, we really don’t know where that money is going and who’s receiving funding from the state. And I think that presents a bit of a challenge for us.”

Craig said the state needs to establish more supportive housing options for Granite Staters.

“The housing that we need to focus on from a statewide level is supportive housing so we can support the needs that they have while also putting a roof over their head,” she said.

But Concord Mayor Jim Bouley – one of the signatories of the letter sent in 2020 – said he declined to add his name to this one, saying he didn’t think another letter “was the appropriate approach to take if looking to solve a problem.”

“If you’re going to solve an issue like this, you need to sit down face to face in the room together and have a conversation and I didn’t feel the letter did that,” he told the Concord Monitor.

He added that Concord’s overall experience with the state government and stakeholders isn’t reflected in the letter.

“We probably have some of our best working relationships with our nonprofit community that we have ever had,” Bouley said. “We have a lot of collaborations going on whether it’s with the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, the McKenna House, the crisis center, the hospital and the county. I can’t speak to what it’s like in other communities but we do have good relationships. Could it be better? Yes, absolutely.”

This article is are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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