Homelessness: a concern for all of New Hampshire
Elected officials should develop a formal statewide plan and support strategy
As Manchester is faced with the ravages and uncertainty of the Covid pandemic, many have had to do with less, isolate from family members and perhaps withdraw from others. Many have had to turn their homes into schools for our youth, convert a kitchen table to a home office, and search multiple grocery stores for toilet paper or even eggs – all of which is far from what we consider to be normal.
But what is normal? Right now normal is an old word that certainly will have a new definition when we figure this all out.
However, there were those who struggled even before the virus hit. They struggled with poverty, drug addiction, trauma, severe mental illness as well as homelessness, all of which they never chose to have. As the pandemic progressed it was recommended that we physically distance and the disease of disconnection widened. Many individuals facing homelessness were fearful to go to shelters. Subsequently, they moved to the streets, the rail tracks and the woods.
Homelessness is not, as some would like to think, always a choice. Nor does everyone facing homelessness have behavioral health issues. However, I would say that many do. Right now in Manchester, there are approximately 25 different encampments. The reports vary from 125 to over 150 individuals who clearly have no home in a city with very limited low-income housing. Even if there were more housing there is the issue of their poverty, and lack of understanding of what resources may be available for them.
For over 25 years, The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester has been out there combing the streets to outreach individuals who are homeless, estranged from their families and in need of treatment. Our homeless outreach specialists, along with our Mobile Crisis Response Team members, are currently out on the streets every single day with the fire and police departments, Families In Transition-New Horizons, Health Care for the Homeless at Catholic Medical Center and other community support programs and religious organizations to help assist and feed all those who are homeless.
The mayor’s office along with the Health Department is working hard to find resolution and promise of a better life for these individuals. All together, these miraculous groups of people and the organizations they represent work diligently to support these individuals and help to connect them with services. What is very clear to those on the ground is that this is not just a Manchester issue but a public health crisis, one that reaches all levels at the state and needs our elected officials to develop a more formal statewide plan and support strategy. This work can be overwhelming and also rewarding, especially when people break through this difficult existence. Homelessness does not have to be a one-way street.
Most people do not even realize that The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester plays a very active role in caring for persons experiencing homelessness, but it is very much a part of our mission. When we are able to give direction and support to individuals who feel abandoned and lost, we can improve their lives. When we improve their lives, we help to improve the community they live in. All of this starts with the simple understanding that life does not always go the way we choose, and sometimes we need others to help us along the way.
The individuals who are trapped in the world of homelessness are in need of community and state support to help them and not abandon them. When we all come together to help, great things can happen. It starts by taking the time to understand what the impact of social inequities do to individuals and then to their community.
We can all change this by getting involved or provide financial support, talking to our elected officials, opening more affordable housing, providing more food resources or just volunteering to help. We have no idea when all of this will be over, or the changes we will all need to make in this new world, but we should understand that we are all in this together.
At the center, we know this fundamental change can happen because we believe in hope and work to provide it each and every day. I can work with that and I hope you can too.
Rik Cornell is vice president for community relations at The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester.