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Report: N.H. homelessness not falling; tight rental market complicates efforts

Last modified: 12/19/2015 12:39:56 AM
The number of homeless people on the street has fallen in New Hampshire recently as the number of temporary shelters has increased, but other factors are getting in the way of further cutting homelessness, including a very tight and expensive market for rental housing.

Those points are part of the conclusions of an annual report by the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness, which says that fewer than one out of every 50 rental units is available at any given time in central New Hampshire, fueling a spike in rents that has particularly burdened poor people in Merrimack County. According to the coalition, 72 percent of people below the poverty line in Merrimack County spent at least half their total income on rent and utilities in 2013 – a percentage that has increased more here than in any other county in the state.

“Service providers report that finding safe and affordable housing for those who have become homeless is the single greatest challenge that they face,” write authors of the report, titled “The State of Homeless in New Hampshire.” “Ending homelessness in New Hampshire will require that we prioritize the creation of more affordable housing within every county. Moreover, we must advocate for housing subsidies, such as the Section 8 Voucher Program, which are so important in helping those with the lowest incomes to attain and maintain safe housing.”

The report is based on data collected from a number of sources, including a one-time count held throughout the state each January, reports from schools and shelters, and other data.

The report said that the number of people experiencing homelessness remained unchanged from 2014 to 2015, “stalling after progressive declines over the past several years.”

However, the report cited several recent initiatives that offer hope, including the full implementation of a statewide Coordinated Entry system, the re-establishment of the Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, and statewide efforts to end homelessness among veterans.

The 35-page report pointed to some improving conditions in 2015, including:

∎ A 19 percent decrease in people reported homelessness in Merrimack County between 2013 and 2015. However, the 201 homeless people counted in Merrimack County this year is slightly higher than the number counted in Rockingham County on the Seacoast, even though Rockingham County has twice the population of Merrimack County.

∎ A 33 percent decline in the number of people living outside of a shelter over the past year, partly because the number of homeless assistance beds across the state has increased.

∎ The report cautions that the data on people sleeping rough are hard to pin down “due to the difficulties of obtaining accurate data on a transient population,” but says “these trends do suggest that increases in homeless assistance beds are resulting in reductions in the number of individuals living unsheltered.”

∎ A 21 percent decline in veterans experiencing homelessness, although veteran homelessness in New Hampshire is still higher than it was in 2011. Merrimack County in particular has seen an increase in homeless veterans, the report says, more than doubling from 12 to 28 in two years.

∎ A 24 percent increase in the average income of the working poor, a reflection of the improving economy.

A number of factors contribute to the homeless rate, the report noted, including the rate of prison discharges, levels of unemployment and the number of people “temporarily doubled-up” or living with others on a short-term basis. These show no set pattern for future homelessness.

“While the rate of doubled-up and unemployment have decreased recently, the rate of poverty and prison discharges have increased,” the report said.

The full report can be read online at nhceh.org/wp-content/uploads/reports/2015-report.pdf.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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