As winter shelter opens in Concord, people come in from the cold

  • Jake King gets some help from his children and his business partner’s kids while organizing bedding containers for the cold weather shelter at the former St. Peter’s church on North State Street on Monday as he gets ready to open. Thrive Outdoors is being subcontracted by the coalition to manage the shelter for about $48,000, program Director Jake King said. The city of Concord, Granite United Way and Lincoln Financial Foundation have all contributed funds to the shelter, Ellen Groh said. The shelter will be open from Dec. 18 to March 31. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Program director Jake King gets some help from his kids as he sets up the cold-weather shelter at the former St. Peter’s church on North State Street in Concord on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Cots are set up for the cold-weather shelter at the former St. Peter’s church on North State Street on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Thrive Outdoors program director Jake King’s son Liam helps his dad by collecting bedding for the cold-weather shelter at the former St. Peter’s church on North State Street in Concord on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. Thrive Outdoors is being subcontracted by the coalition to manage the shelter for about $48,000, King said. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Michael Dupuis settles into his cot on the opening night for the cold-weather shelter at the former St. Peter’s Church on North State Street on Monday on opening night Dec. 18, 2017. Dupuis has been homeless since May and has been living with his dog, Emmitt, out on the Concord-Pembroke line. He said he has worked his whole life, most recently in the food industry and he hopes that once he draws his Social Security he can get a place in Concord. His dog has to sleep in his car. Dupuis said he’ll see how it goes for Emmitt. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Carl Morisseau once needed a hand.

He needed one while growing up in Missouri. He lived in group homes then, ran with a tough crowd, saw the sting of drug addiction.

That’s why he was at St. Peter’s Church on Monday, on the opening night of the winter shelter. To lend a hand.

“It was pretty rough, and I learned a lot back then,” Morisseau, who lives in Manchester, told me. “A couple of my friends went down the wrong paths.”

Morisseau didn’t go into detail, but his remarks said a lot. A man of 27, he was once a kid who saw mean streets up close. He felt drawn to St. Peter’s and the 16 homeless people who showed up for a cot, a pillow and a blanket.

He and the seven other volunteers, three of whom spent the night, are the story here, the often overlooked crowd who traveled in the snow, some 20 or 30 miles, because tired, fed-up people needed someone to care about them.

People like Morisseau.

“I can relate to them,” he said.

Each year, the opening of the city’s cold-weather homeless shelter signals two things: Concord remains willing to help, but the job is not done.

Monday began another chapter of a coordinated effort to keep the homeless warm and safe as a church-turned-shelter opens its doors for the next 3½ months.

“This is a safety net for people who have no other option,” Ellen Groh, executive director of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, said earlier in the day. “It’s just a stopgap.”

The coalition has struggled with how best to actually end homelessness in the capital. Shelters that open in the winter certainly help, but they aren’t the solution.

“We keep trying to stress that the ultimate goal is permanent housing,” Groh said. “But you can’t ignore people’s emergency housing needs in New England in the winter.”

The shelter’s staff is hoping to keep the head count close to 40 people, because that’s the number a new permanent shelter being built down the road will hold. The shelter will be funded entirely on local money and private donations and is intended to serve the people of the Concord area.

While the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness gets top billing, Thrive Outdoors – its mission statement reads, “We will use the readily available tools around us (nature and our minds topping that list) to help people become more positive minded, optimistic, and less stressed” – has the soldiers working on the ground, making sure things run smoothly.

Thrive’s lead instructor and CEO is Jake King, who, along with staff members Vinnie Haney and Lauren Grout, coordinated Monday’s effort.

Rosie Ward of Manchester listened closely. Later, she’d pass out the pillows and blankets, each stored in those green recycle bins we all use in our comfortable lives.

Ward was laid off last March from her job fixing computers. She’s since started her own cleaning business and collects Social Security.

Like Morisseau, Ward had empathy for the folks who slowly moved in from the snow, with walking sticks, backpacks and weathered faces.

“I just want to help people,” Ward said. “I know people who have been in a situation like this. At any given moment, anyone can be homeless. This can happen to anyone.”

Ryan Chasse drove to Concord from Hooksett to volunteer. He runs his own outdoor education business and works with kids in alternative schools.

“It’s a necessary service, and it’s as simple as that,” Chasse told me. “I have the ability to do it. I’ve seen kids in need, and they sometimes turn into adults in need.”

Some of the homeless adults I’ve met through the years understandably don’t want their stories told, and it was no different Monday night. No pictures, no quotes, nothing. Some think the media exploit them for a good story.

Gary Magoon, however, welcomed me at his cot. A tall, wiry man, he graduated from Merrimack Valley High School in 2000 and said he’s been homeless on and off for 12 years. He said he’d like to open a little business, rent a little apartment, maybe wash dishes part time.

Meanwhile, he hangs where it’s warm.

Like at the shelter.

“Sanity, a place for me to be safe at night, comfortable, warm,” Magoon said. “Keeps me from being outside crazy in the cold.”

The cots were lined up like those in an Army barrack. On the far side, the women’s side, I found Joyce Sartorelli, who said she has a college degree but can’t afford the sky-high rent around here.

“It’s a very hard life,” she told me. “Moving around all the time is the most tiring thing to do.”

The volunteers I met were the shock absorbers for the homeless.

“It’s important work,” Grout said.

“Amen,” Ward added.

For more information or to volunteer go to www.concordhomeless.org.