At Concord homeless center, a matter of resources

Last modified: 5/17/2015 10:59:14 PM
Jake King looks like a cop.

He was, in fact, at one time a police officer and an Army Ranger. As the new manager of the Concord Homeless Resource Center, his muscle has earned wary glances from guests who aren’t always trusting of law enforcement.

But as they stop by for anything from a cup of coffee to a case manager’s advice, King aims to change that skittish first impression.

“I bring a certain bit of physical credibility,” said King, 39. “Expectations are attached to that. When they see, this guy loves us, it can break their expectations.”

King joined the small staff at the resource center this spring, shortly before the Homeless Resource Center moved from a crowded kitchen on South State Street to a spacious house on North Main Street. The resource center is operated by the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness.

“A lot of the people we’re dealing with are people our society has failed,” King said. “Our society is only as strong as the way we treat people in need.”

At 238 N. Main St., the Homeless Resource Center is closer to other services like the soup kitchen and the city welfare office. In the next several months, the new center is poised to open shower and laundry machines – often inaccessible for the homeless. Because it is much larger than the previous location, King said he wants to use its extra rooms as meeting space for homeless guests and service providers who can help them.

“My end game for this place is to make it the hub for anybody working with this population – homeless, nearly homeless, low income,” King said. “The end game is that they are no longer homeless.”

King last worked at a similar resource center in Manchester, until the funding for his position ran out. But he came to Concord at a pivotal moment as the coalition works to implement a plan to end homelessness in Concord. Growing the Homeless Resource Center was a key component to that plan, and it is one of the first to materialize.

In the meantime, the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness is grasping for the dollars to achieve its other goals.

Executive Director Ellen Groh has applied to the state for a grant, which would pay a caseworker to usher Housing First into Concord. Housing First is a model that puts a roof over a homeless person’s head and then surrounds him or her with services.

That position could cost between $40,000 and $50,000, but the state House of Representatives has already slashed the available budget for homeless services.

She also applied for $10,000 from the city of Concord, which used to provide the same amount of money to the now-shuttered cold weather shelters. City Manager Tom Aspell did not allocate that money to the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness in his proposed budget for 2016, because the city traditionally gives grants only to organizations that directly provide shelter to individuals and children.

But Aspell said he put that money in a contingency fund for the Concord City Council to allocate at will, so the dollars could still go to the coalition.

“That’s more of a call for the council,” Aspell said.

This year, the nonprofit’s budget is about $100,000. Much of that money comes from the Granite United Way and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, as well as private fundraisers like the annual SouperFest.

“It could go up significantly for next year, if all these pieces get funded,” Groh said.

And while Groh looked to the faith community for a smaller backup shelter in the winter, no one has yet volunteered to host next winter. So beyond the expanded Homeless Resource Center, much of the coalition’s goals are still up in the air.

“It’s all up in the air about what funding is going to come through and what isn’t,” Groh said.

For now, day-to-day traffic at the resource center grows. Ever since the new location opened at the beginning of May, the number of daily guests has already tripled. Last week, King helped a new guest fill out an intake form at the resource center.

In a nearby sitting room, Ricky Patch sipped his coffee and sat quietly among chattering guests.

On a good day, it took Patch an hour to walk from the Friendly Kitchen to the prior location on South State Street. Each block was a massive effort; his shoulders stoop when he walks.

But now, his journey to the new resource center is less than a half mile’s walk.

“That’s why I like this place,” Patch said. “It’s closer to the Friendly Kitchen.”

He talked about his plans to meet someone from Families in Transition tomorrow. He is camping outside at night, but they might be able to help him find an apartment.

“I hope so,” he said.

In the meantime, he was at ease there, sitting near the window with the warm sun on his neck.

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

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