Editorial: In Concord, an urgent need to deal with homelessness
One of the more depressing photographs published in the Monitor recently appeared at the bottom of last Sunday’s front page. It portrayed volunteers from the Open Hands Resource Center loading tents and sleeping bags into a truck for distribution to Concord’s homeless population. The city’s winter shelters had closed, and for many it was back to a life along the tracks. The scene was proof that much more needs to be done reduce homelessness. Concord does a lot, but the homeless problem is growing, not shrinking.
Like Manchester and Nashua, Concord, is a magnet for homeless people. Meeting their needs and putting as many of them as possible on a path to housing and self-sufficiency can’t be accomplished with charity alone. We urge Concord’s legislative delegation to join with its counterparts from Manchester and Nashua to seek state aid that recognizes that the state’s major cities carry a disproportionate share of the burden created by large numbers of homeless.
Friction, between the homeless themselves and between them and their neighbors, increases when large numbers of homeless people, many of whom have a mental illness or substance abuse problem, live or gather together.
Assaults and other crimes increase. Sanitation becomes an issue. Downtown merchants say customers are being scared off by panhandlers and homeless loiterers. They fear that the problem will only worsen if the city succeeds in beautifying downtown and heating the sidewalks.
It’s impossible to say how many of Concord’s residents are homeless. A winter shelter census suggests that the number could exceed 200, though many don’t live on the street.
The police, at the request of property owners, have been moving the homeless out of their encampments, first near the Everett Arena, more recently on land behind the Concord Center. But pushing them from place to place is no solution.
Short- and long-term action is necessary. The Friendly Kitchen meets most of the food needs of the homeless, but they need a supervised daytime center that’s warm in the winter and air-conditioned in summer. There they could gather, shower, do laundry and, for those who were willing, meet with a case manager who could help some stay on medication, steer others to substance-abuse counseling and help people find and keep jobs. A day shelter could also be a site to provide periodic, basic health-care services and reduce expensive trips to the emergency room.
In January, Concord Mayor Jim Bouley created an 18-member committee to address homelessness. On it are a current and former police chiefs and housing and social service experts. The committee will hold its second meeting April 16. We encourage it to look at the creation of a day center as an interim step, one that would take some of the pressure off downtown and the public library.
What’s needed in the long term is more affordable housing, including single-occupancy rooming houses that can shelter boarders who earn less than the $12 or more per hour it takes to afford a one-room apartment. Ideally, that housing would also be “supported” by a case manager and others who can help the homeless develop the skills they need to become self-sufficient.
Low wages and high rents have made the homeless problem worse. New York City alone, on any given night, has 50,000 people living in shelters or on the streets. The city and its residents and charities will do their part, but a dramatic reduction in homelessness will require a partnership with state and federal government.
Cities that are succeeding in reducing their homeless population have recognized that secure shelter has to come first.
As one outreach worker said, “It’s hard to convince someone to stay sober when they’re living under a bridge.”