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As N.H. shelters close, one question: ‘Where are we supposed to go?’

  • Terry Locke makes her bed at the South Congregational Church's winter homeless shelter on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014. Regardless of the weather, Concord's two winter shelters close for the season on Saturday morning.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Terry Locke makes her bed at the South Congregational Church's winter homeless shelter on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014. Regardless of the weather, Concord's two winter shelters close for the season on Saturday morning.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Terry Locke smiles and lifts her arms showing she has checked everything in at the South Congregational Church's winter homeless shelter on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Terry Locke smiles and lifts her arms showing she has checked everything in at the South Congregational Church's winter homeless shelter on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Terry Locke enters the common room from a smoke break at South Congregational Church's winter homeless shelter on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Terry Locke enters the common room from a smoke break at South Congregational Church's winter homeless shelter on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Terry Locke makes her bed at the South Congregational Church's winter homeless shelter on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014. Regardless of the weather, Concord's two winter shelters close for the season on Saturday morning.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Terry Locke smiles and lifts her arms showing she has checked everything in at the South Congregational Church's winter homeless shelter on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Terry Locke enters the common room from a smoke break at South Congregational Church's winter homeless shelter on Wednesday night, March 19, 2014. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

It was just after 6 p.m. Wednesday at the winter shelter at the First Congregational Church in Concord, and Terry Locke was next in line at the check-in desk.

Locke’s smile was wide and toothy, her hair pixie short under a wool rainbow hat. A volunteer, pen poised to take the 53-year-old woman’s name, asked how she was doing.

“I’m almost perfect,” Locke said. “I’ve got to have something to work on.”

On Wednesday night, Locke slept in one of 68 beds available at one of two winter homeless shelters in Concord. When those shelters closed for the season yesterday morning, she joined a homeless population that doesn’t have a bed, or money to rent an apartment, or even a sanctioned place to pitch a tent.

Terry Blake, director of the First Congregational shelter, said her staff and the shelter staff at South Congregational Church were working with local service providers to find some kind of housing for their guests.

“We’ll see what happens Saturday,” Blake said. “There’s no good solution. It’s going to be . . .”

She let the sentence trail off. She was silent for a moment.

“I don’t know,” Blake said finally. “It worries us all.”

Locke had plans to sleep in a friend’s truck last night. But she did have something to work on, she said: ideas for those homeless people sleeping in the other 67 beds at the shelter.

“I have some immediate suggestions,” she said.

The State House could double as an overnight shelter for the city’s homeless, she said. Or Concord hotels could rent rooms at a discounted rate, charging four people the price for two.

Locke’s tone was excited and hopeful. But her enthusiasm did not hide her need.

“If you’re going to kick me out on the street, you’re going to give me some options, baby,” she said.

‘Counts we can’t count’

Ten years ago, First Congregational began opening its doors for the homeless when temperatures dropped below zero. Today, both church shelters stay open for the season and run on $30,000 in state and city money. They share a sign-in table at First Congregational, and both close at the beginning of spring for lack of resources and volunteers, to make way for classrooms and church meeting space.

“Most people know (the shelters exist),” Blake said. “But they don’t think about it, that there is no other place for these people to go.”

A few year-round shelters operate in the Concord area. The Edna McKenna House has 26 beds; the Friends Emergency Shelter can take eight families at a time. Riverbend Community Mental Health and the Community Action Program of Belknap and Merrimack counties are among the service providers that try to help the homeless find housing. The Homeless Resource Center, run by the Coalition to End Homelessness, works with the homeless or those in danger of losing their homes. Those in need of help can also turn to the city’s welfare office or the 211 housing hotline.

But 508 homeless people sought shelter in Concord facilities in the last fiscal year, according to state data cited in a recent report to the city council. And the need is greater than the services the community provides.

“The bottom line is, there’s such limited places where people can go,” Homeless Resource Center Director Ellen Groh said.

Recent reports from the Coalition to End Homelessness and from Concord Mayor Jim Bouley’s task force to end homelessness circled the issue as well. Their suggestions – more case management, more low-income housing, expanded services at the Homeless Resource Center – also note how difficult it is to track a population that comes to the city’s streets from many different paths.

As Locke said, “There’s a lot of counts we can’t count.”

Last winter, 130 people signed in at First Congregational alone. This year, Blake said that number increased to 147. But the real jump came in the shelter’s statistics for “bed nights,” the total number of nights those individuals stayed at First Congregational. Last year, the number of bed nights was 2,772. This year, the number of overnight stays shot up to 3,866.

Bad weather can account for part of that increase, Blake said. But some people come to the shelter because “no trespassing” and “no camping” signs are now posted on state-owned land where they used to camp outdoors – in the woods off Hazen Drive, off Loudon and Gully Hill roads, along Stickney Avenue, and behind Everett Arena. Last July, a Merrimack County Superior Court judge ruled the state can evict homeless residents from its land in Concord.

The Open Hands Resource Center will again distribute tent kits containing a tent, tarp and sleeping bag – this year, at a cost of $20. For those who will still need to camp, Blake said she can only advise them to stay away from posted areas and not set up tents in large groups.

“Nobody gave them specific areas to go,” she said.

When the churches close their shelters at 8 a.m., guests usually head to the Friendly Kitchen for warmth and breakfast. Director Jennifer Lombardo said anxiety about the winter shelters’ closing is palpable.

“They come here to eat, but they talk about – they don’t know where to go,” Lombardo said.

‘Everybody’s kind of on edge’

The soup kitchen opens weekdays for breakfast during the winter, and will continue to do so until Friday, Lombardo said. On cold days, the Friendly Kitchen’s tables have been a haven for those with few other places to go.

Locke sat down Thursday morning at her table, a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of orange juice on her tray – “gold, pure gold,” she said, pointing at her drink.

It was the first day of spring, but snow had fallen the night before. Locke planned to spend her day inside, at the State House, counting floor tiles. She wanted to know how many beds the building could fit. But the night before, on the steps outside the South Congregational Shelter, smoke from her cigarette clouded her hope for that plan for just a moment.

“Where are we supposed to go?” Locke said. “I don’t know.”

‘Long, complicated, involved and sad’

Assistant Shelter Director Susan Gagnon walked through the makeshift rooms in the basement of First Congregational on South Main Street.

It’s been a long and wet winter, Gagnon said. It’s been a winter of lost toes, of not enough flu shots, of squeezing in an extra bed here and there, and of listening.

“Everybody has a different story that’s long, complicated, involved and sad,” Gagnon said.

There was Roseanne Ferrante, 69. Her lips were unsmiling and tight, and she repeated the same three sentences over and over to make sure the words were heard.

“My son is in Raymond, New Hampshire,” she said. “And I want to live with him. I have not seen him in 20 years.”

A homeless man walked through the shelter, telling anyone who would listen that he had filled out an application for an apartment that day.

“I’m hoping I get this apartment,” he said, stuttering slightly as he spoke. “It’s got one bedroom.”

“I have no furniture,” he added.

Joe Bard just turned 30. He works for a buddy of his, doing painting jobs, work he said he likes. Once he gets paid, he said, he’ll get his own place.

“Once I get my own place, I’ll be back on my feet,” he said.

Heidi Sweeney, 35, didn’t think she and her fiance would be able to find $20 for a tent kit. She’ll get her disability money at the beginning of April, but she didn’t know what she would do until then. Her 7-year-old son is staying with her friend for now, because the shelter takes only adults.

“I don’t know how people do this,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for two months. I’m about to sign myself into the hospital. I’m going crazy. I don’t know how people do this for a long period of time.”

As she tells it, Locke’s story is also long, complicated, involved and sad. She’s been married, divorced and abused. She said she had three DWIs on her record, each in a different state, before she got sober 23 years ago. She’s been homeless about half a dozen times since she was injured on the job in 2007, she said. She’s in a legal fight with her former landlord, the owner of the home she lived in until February. She’s living out of her friend’s truck while he’s in the hospital, and she just spent the last of her cash on gas.

“Every time I start that truck, I hear a dollar go ding,” she said.

But her blue-gray eyes are bright, and that toothy smile gets wider when she talks about the foundation she’s going to start for human rights and the homeless when she can pay the filing fee.

“I’m the happiest I have been in my life,” Locke said. “I am only supposed to plan for now.”

Wherever now is, wherever now goes.

“Where I’m at is pretty much where I’m at.”

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Legacy Comments32

why is there massive homelessness in liberal cities like LA, Chicago, NYC, DC. The per capita homeless in liberal VS conservative cities like Tulsa is astronomical. I guess conservatives know how to take care of their brothers...liberals just talk a good game

Takes some gonads to comment here with an ID of BestPresidentReagan. It was during the Reagan admin when Voluntary Admissions were discontinued at the NH State Hospital. So, your "Best President" contributed significantly to the homeless problem in the Granite State. Ronnie's the one who dumped them out into the street.

Headlines! Senator from CA arrested and Mayor Of Charlotte NC arrested. Both Dems. Not reported on CNN of course. Wondering how many media outlets will bury these stories. You see they are both Dems. If they were Republicans they would break into your daytime television viewing with a Special Report.

been a bad month for Democrats..first Lifelong democrat Fred Phelps died...today about 6 got arrested or raided...On the bright side...Phelps will no longer be cancelling out my vote for president....

...or maybe he will...hmmmm...time will tell.

What is your point here? Ex Repub. Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife are both going on trial on corruption charges. For every corrupt Dem you can find just as corrupt a Repub. They are politicians after all. If you didn't see it on CNN where did you see it? Should I guess?

Re: " Last July, a Merrimack County Superior Court judge ruled the state can evict homeless residents from its land in Concord "; of that judge was and still is: Larry Smukler, right? Case #________ of evicted when? Right away? or IF they are there AFTER 2 weeks, like what the National Forest Rangers do, see: http://www.matchdoctor.com/blog_108118/Conversations_With_Homeless_Campers_Living_in_the_National_Forest.html as just found. Plus BTW The Feds own land over on Pleasant Street; don't they need "paper boys"? to carry their RSA Ch. 123:1 papers to the N.H. Secretary of State. Answer: yes, of THEN the City Assessor woman can give Uncle Sam the RSA Chapter 123:2 exemption from the land, of to assess them by April 1st or another year goes by of losing $2.2 million in property taxes on their $111 million Taj Mahal. Two million dollars could be ear-marked for to match with CATCH (and others) that does a GREAT job of helping the working poor find and build housing.

I'm pretty sick and tired of posters using every article to promote their own political/religious beliefs in this forum. This article is about homelessness. It is not about "my party/my God is right, and you are wrong!". Please get off it.

Well, I see the same bad boys that love to interject their political views and biases without offering any solutions. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Why is not possible for the city to make some funds available so that these shelters may stay open at least at until fair weather resumes? Why can't the state make a small parcel of land available for the homeless to camp? These seem like such small steps that could make a world of difference.

heres a solution...take the $17 million a month budget for Obamacare ads and spend it on providing something useful ...

How about Koch Bros using just a little bit of the billion dollars then are spending to make sure that people don't have healthcare to help the homeless. With out health care the homeless will probably die early anyway and they can recoup some of their money back.

FACT CHECK TIME : $$$$ Billion dollars - thats a joke - right?

One question: If these folks do not have jobs... where are they getting money for smokes?

Don't forget, "there but for the grace of God, go I".

That phrase for me is one of defeat. It encompasses the idea that you have no choice. That applies somewhat to health. Cancer knows no bounds. But what you do in regards to education, having kids, etc is certainly a choice. I also find it quite ironic that many who do not believe in religion as far as abortion goes, are quick to latch on to phrases like this. To clarify, Tillie, I am not saying you are anti religious, before you get you knickers in a twist. But the victim mentality is one that the Dems have held for a long time, and their fixes, do not seem to be working. No matter how much money you throw at anything, you cannot change human behavior.

Well Bunny this post seems a little incoherent, it jumps subjects so much. But I see something about abortion and even though you are not pro choice you feel that being poor is a choice and to not have a choice is to be a defeatist. Did I get it right?

RabbitNH, you are correct. One has to feel for those without a home, it could be any of us. Progressives selectively use religion in an attempt to minimize those with faith as if to say..."you need to not say anything or you are a hypocrite". The case of the woman who had 3 DWI's by the age of 23, had been abused by her ex and was in the common area having a "smoke break" is a sad one. But one has to ask if this is not a prime example of our choices defining us? People make choices and I am sure that there was a stubborn independence based on a need for self esteem that cultivated her fate. When society can figure out why that happens, we will solve the homeless and poor issues. Many of these folks obviously have challenges and NH Hospital used to be there for them. Now, because of the patients rights movement of the 70's and the ACLU, we are left with what exists today.

$17 million a month advertising campaign for Obamacare..$30 k for church shelters...

I feel sorry for these people. They don't know how to fill out a job application.

Wrong, it's people that think like you that I pity. Obviously not a Christian ??? --- Matthew 25:40 'And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

god helps those that help themselves

opposite of what the bible teaches. Doesn't even appear in the bible. You must be mixing up Ben Franklin with God.

No, you're wrong, and yes I am a Christian. Waltham_Watch 24:34 'Have no sympathy for people that will not work.' I would be the first one, to give someone a hand, that was struggling to get by.

Waltham, what was pulled on you was an attempt to shame you because of your comment. An assumption was automatically made that you must be a Christian because you are not a progressive and therefore GCarson tried to have his cake and eat it too. If you were a Christian the implication was that you were a hypocrite and at the same time he used Christianity suggesting that it must be irrelevant. Nice try on his part but we get the approach.

Very good and to think I routinely question your comprehension skills. I know the bible very well, I don't buy into the commercial religions though. As to BPR's quote above, that saying does not appear in any bible I know of. Quite the contrary, the bible tells us to help the helpless. Regardless, we can't turn these people out on the streets and then say they can't even camp on State land. why not create a campground for them, with a communal kitchen and bathing/washing area. Relatively low cost and at least attempts to address the issue. Needs work but it's a start.

BPR never said the quote came from the Bible. It actually first came to light in a Greek Tragedy. Sophocles said "No good e'er comes of leisure purposeless; and heaven ne'er helps the man who will not act".. Then Aesop used it in a Fable. Hercules & The Waggoner. The Moral of that was "The Gods help those that help themselves" Ben Franklin then used it in Poor Richard's Almanac. Changed it to God Helps Those That Help Themselves. The Bible does not have it, but the Bible does have a lot about sloth or laziness that kind of goes along with that saying. As far as the Homeless goes, I assume you believe they cannot help themselves G Carson. All of them. Course we have to assume that is the case for most of them in regards to addiction and mental illness. But we also have to take into consideration that some refuse help. Just want the warm bed at the shelter, meal from the Kitchen, and do not want to get on any programs that have rules.

No one ever said this as easy topic. Snarky comments concerning the ability to fill oiut a job application don't help (WW). Some homeless would refuse housing help that is true, some have medical issues, but some are just trapped with no place to go. One thing that is clear is that there has to be some option other than the street. Especially when you make it impossible for them to camp anywhere. Jobs for the homeless is something easier said than done. Skills can be an issue, living out in the elements, ability to get back and forth are just some of the hurdles they face. Look what the Friendly Kitchen had to go thru to rebuild - not-in-my-backyard. Sometimes people just give up. So let me ask this, if they only want a warm meal, bed and nothing else, does that mean we just wash our hands and do nothing? One last thing - Why does wanting to help someone make someone a progressive, as a matter of fact just what does it have to do with anything political? Didn't realize feeling compassion was politically motivated.

I agree snarky remarks are not cool at all. We need to find out who the homeless are. Every one of them and evaluate their situation. I have no issue with the homeless who just want a meal, but a bed requires rules like no drugs or booze that many of them will not abide by, so they avoid the shelters, A large campground would be a bad idea unless it was staffed. Once evaluated you take it from there. If you cannot take care of yourself, maybe you need to be a ward of the state and housed. I mean folks who are mentally ill, or addicts that refuse help. It is either that or that roam the streets and sleep in alleys. Do all these homeless folks have families they burnt out? I could never fathom anybody having a relative homeless, addicts and mentally ill refusing help do burn out their families though. They cannot watch it anymore and get frustrated. As far a compassion being about politics, the left can claim the blame for that. If you do not throw more money at their failed programs you are heartless. Everybody wants programs that work, but throwing money at failed programs as opposed to fixing them just continues the decline. The left does not see it that way. A Progressive in my book is a socialist. Not all Dems are Progressive and not all Reps are conservative. Most folks are in the middle I believe.

Just for the heck of it, I looked it up. I didn't have it off the top of my head as Rabbit does. Funny I read that it is not in the Bible but it is in the Quran. Wonder if Sail realized he was quoting the Quran?

Well that's not exactly true Tillie so you can stop your giggling. "The phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is a popular motto that emphasizes the importance of initiative. The phrase originated in ancient Greece and may originally have been proverbial. It is illustrated by two of Aesop's Fables and a similar sentiment is found in ancient Greek drama. Although it has been commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the modern English wording appears earlier in Algernon Sidney's work."

"Not exactly true"/ In case you don't have a Quran on hand, a form of the same message is found in Chapt 13-11. What difference does it make?

The question is, how do you know that they *won't* work. There are often very broad assumptions made about the homeless, without ever looking at them as human beings with individual stories and reasons for their homelessness. "Won't work" is not necessarily the reason.

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