My Turn: Community input needed on homelessness plan
Earlier this month, the committee crafting a plan to end homelessness in Concord took public comments about its draft report. As I looked up at the people assembled to participate in the process, I thought this group of city and state government leaders, businesspeople, representatives of nonprofit organizations, advocates and other interested parties is precisely what it will take to implement this plan.
With me in the audience were a wide variety of people – folks experiencing homelessness, folks working to help them find housing and other supports, teachers and visionaries who, while not always in agreement about where to start, were willing to stand up and state their intention to work to achieve the goals in the plan. It was a cold night, but as I drove home I felt confident that Concord has “the right stuff” to make this plan a reality.
Concord people care about preventing and ending homelessness. Not only do we meet urgent human needs on a daily basis through the city Human Services Department, but we are also well served by numerous nonprofit and faith-based programs which provide lifesaving shelter, supportive services, food, rental and fuel assistance as best they can.
The Concord cold weather shelters have just reopened for the 10th year in a row, in continuation of the volunteer effort to expand the number of emergency shelter beds during our most brutally cold winter months.
And it is clear that we need to do more. This past year, Concord has addressed concerns about panhandling and camping without permission on public and private land. We’ve seen an increase in demand at the Concord Homeless Resource Center of folks in need of health, dental and mental health care; for financial assistance to obtain proof of identification for employment purposes; for access to laundry machines and showers; and for CAT bus tickets. This past Friday, the 24th annual Homeless Memorial Day vigil took place in Concord. Organizers read the names of 30 New Hampshire residents who died this year from homelessness and related issues. At least three were Concord residents.
The steering committee has been at work for nearly a year. The result is a draft plan to end homelessness for Concord. It proposes a series of common-sense steps that will promote strategic collaboration within the community so that we focus our resources to implement real change. The draft plan urges an increase in the availability of affordable housing for our lowest-income residents, and an expansion of the capacity of the Concord Homeless Resource Center to help people connect to essential services.
To fulfill these and other goals, we will need additional financial resources from public and private sources, and to gather better data about who is homeless in Concord so that we can measure our progress effectively. And perhaps most important, we will need the ongoing engagement and energy of a broad range of people and organizations willing to work together to ensure that our most vulnerable residents can secure stable housing.
Community input has been an important part of this planning process, through focus group meetings and surveys. A public comment period is open now and will continue until Dec. 31. The plan is posted on the city website and can be found at concordnh.gov/ArchiveCenter/ ViewFile/Item/1359.
Send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Dec. 31.
Please take a few moments in this busy season to review this plan and offer your own insights. We need your input now so that we can set the right course for Concord.
(Page Cannon is a board member of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness.)