As pandemic hotel funding expires, service providers fear what’s next

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 03-25-2023 6:50 PM

At the end of the month, pandemic emergency assistance that afforded temporary hotel stays for individuals will come to an end. The Concord Coalition to End Homelessness’s winter shelter will also close on the same day, March 31.

For service providers in the area, they knew this day would come. But it is a perfect, yet preventable, storm – as the hope was more time and funding could ensure that at the end of a hotel stay, these individuals would transition out of homelessness and into stable housing.

Instead, it’s unclear how many people were successful in finding a new home and how many still need assistance in the aftermath. The Community Action Program for Merrimack and Belknap Counties, which oversees the program, did not quantify how many hotel residents have found housing.

For service providers in the area, this unknown has led to a mounting fear that a $337 million program intended to help people stay off the street, may discharge them into homelessness at the end of the month.

“In Concord, it’s a great concern,” said Karen Jantzen, the executive director for the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness. “A lot of conversation has been going on to try and figure out how best to get our arms around this.”

Temporary solution

When the Executive Council approved a $20 million contract to fund hotel stays for individuals through the end of March the clear intent was to keep vulnerable residents out of the cold.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

In a big blow, Spirit Airlines is ending flights from Manchester airport
Opinion: Our first Virginia winter? How climate change has impacted NH
‘They don’t have a voice’: Planning Board tables Christ the King food pantry plans citing poor communication
Friendly Kitchen expands to grow meal delivery program
Pedestrian killed outside Dunkin’, passenger injured in two separate Concord crashes
New fields, track, bleachers and field house – Memorial Field designs include long list of upgrades

“It extends the life of the people that are in the most precarious position going into winter,” said Taylor Caswell, N.H. Commissioner of Business and Economic Affairs, at an Executive Council meeting in November.

It was also the last lifeline to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which came to an abrupt end in October, when the U.S. Treasury announced that New Hampshire would not receive the $67 million elected officials requested to continue funding.

With the Executive Council funds, the program would wind down from supporting thousands of people across the state with rent and utility assistance, to solely focus on people experiencing homelessness living in hotels.

And in the four-month runway – from December through March – the hope was more time and funding could ensure that at the end of a hotel stay, these individuals would transition out of homelessness and into stable housing.

To do so, the Executive Council contracted with New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, to administer the $20 million among the state’s five Community Action Programs.

These Community Action Programs would be responsible for processing applications and working with clients in hotels and motels. In Merrimack and Belknap County, they hired 13 case managers, who worked with residents to apply for housing, jobs and other assistance programs.

“They have been boots on the ground,” said Dani Guerin, the housing stabilization manager for the local Community Action Program. “They meet clients where they’re at, so they’ll go to the hotel. They’ll help them fill out applications. Bring them emergency food boxes.”

But after spending $337 million – over three times what was allocated to build housing through InvestNH – to help alleviate homelessness in the state, providers fear there has been little change for individuals, and they’ll remain unhoused without hotel funds.

“None of us have a magic wand to build hundreds upon hundreds of housing, which is what the state truly needs,” said Beth Hayward, the Director of Strategy and Planning for the Community Action Program in Merrimack and Belknap Counties.

Now as the program nears its end, the Community Action Program in the Concord-area has encouraged residents to make a “housing plan” – which involves calling family members, friends and local shelters, if they have not secured an apartment. Households with children will keep their funding until June 15.

It is unclear how many people are in this situation. The Community Action Program would not release the number of individuals in hotels, nor the number of households who have transitioned into permanent housing, citing a fear of breaking confidentiality with clients.

Partner organizations

The impact of Community Action Program services is widespread. Often they’re better identified by program names – like Head Start and Meals on Wheels – which are two of the more than 70 programs the nonprofit oversees.

“We look at ourselves as kind of the safety net for the state of New Hampshire,” said Michael Tabory, the chief operating officer for the Merrimack and Belknap county Community Action Program.

Throughout the pandemic, Community Action Programs administered emergency funds for rental assistance and hotel stays. If clients were approved for funding, they were responsible for finding a hotel room themselves, and then the organization worked with the hotel to provide payment.

But given the fact that hotel choice was driven by the individual, people are living in a dozen hotels throughout the Concord area, according to Guerin. The Community Action Program would not share which hotels, citing that they have worked with any hotel that has been willing to accept and process a client’s voucher.

Agency directors also denied an interview request to speak with a case manager. Instead, Guerin, who manages the case management team, spoke broadly about the program.

Guerin’s team asked households to share their personal information for the state-wide Homeless Management Information System. These profiles are then circulated as a part of the state’s Coordinated Entry plan, allowing for service providers to follow shared goals and procedures when it comes to helping people experiencing homelessness.

But providing this information is entirely optional.

“We have tried our hardest to make sure that people are in coordinated entry,” said Hayward. “That being said, not all of them have done so.”

For many agencies in the area, having this information is the first step to solving homelessness. It’s a strategy called developing a “by-name list,” where providers craft profiles of each individual and share this information among partners to better understand people’s transitions in and out of homelessness, and what support may be needed.

With this information, it is also easier to plan – how many shelter beds are needed, how many housing voucher applications to process – essential numbers that dictate a case manager’s client load.

And without it, other providers like the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness are solely reliant on partner organizations to voluntarily share data in meetings.

This lack of information was a concern brought to the Executive Council by Cinde Warmington, who represents Concord in District 2, when the council approved the Community Action Program contract in November.

“The other concern I’ve had expressed to me is that the CAP agency isn’t telling the cities and towns when they are placing families in their community,” she said at the November meeting, when the $20 million contract was approved.

This could prove to be a challenge in tracking what municipality would be responsible for ongoing housing costs and services when funding expired, she said.

To solve this, a monthly report became a requirement of the program. These reports would be generated by New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority so that municipalities would be aware of how many households in the area are in hotels. Yet these reports are hard to come by – the data isn’t posted on the website and CAP wouldn’t release the data to the Monitor.

A summary of Concord-area information obtained by the Monitor revealed that 83 households were living in hotels as of Feb. 19. Out of that population, 11 households had children, and nine were originally residents of a different town. Additionally, 14 Concord households were in hotels in a different municipality.

The February numbers gave the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness its first real glimpse of how many people were living in hotels in Concord and the surrounding area – but with little communication prior, providers were left with just over a month to prepare for April 1.

“It does help us assess on what the influx may be,” said Jantzen. “We do have good options in the city in terms of people trying to work together and trying between ourselves, city welfare, the outreach workers at Community Action Programs, Families in Transition, Family Promise, The Friends Program. We all recognize that there’s potential for a lot of people to be unsheltered and let’s just pool our resources the best we can.”

The influx that Jantzen is referring to, is the number of new clients that may now utilize the Coalition’s Resource Center when their hotel funding expires.

When asked for the March report, the Community Action Program said they could not share this information with the Monitor. New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority reported that 148 households have utilized funding since December, but didn’t provide current enrollment numbers with one week left of the program.

But based on the February numbers, come April 1, potentially 70 households could now be looking to the Coalition for some form of support.

Many people experiencing homelessness touch numerous city resources for help. They may eat a meal at the Friendly Kitchen, shower at the Coalition’s Resource Center and take a sleeping bag from the Community Action Program.

The Community Action Program works hand in hand with the coalition on case conferencing about individuals who may touch both of their service areas, according to Hayward. Often the coalition can provide case management to help clients apply for housing vouchers or other assistance. But with the hotel funding, the Community Action Program received money to do this work themselves.

“We have case managers, so we don’t need to outsource that piece of it,” she said.

That led to a breakdown in the typical cooperation between the agencies.

“One of the important things that’s always been a driving force is we don’t duplicate services. We are not out to steal someone else’s programs. We are not out to duplicate those. We’re there to fill the gaps that others don’t,” said Tabory.

But now, these clients could be turning back to the coalition for this support, as these case management services will be another supportive thread that will unravel when funding expires – meaning that even when housed, individuals will no longer have that guidance from the Community Action Program.

“We’ve never been able to case manage like this. There’s not enough money,” said Hayward. “As hard as it’s going to be to have these deadlines, I do think we were able to give some people support that they would not have  otherwise had.”

]]>