Downtown: Homeless winter shelter opens in two weeks

  • Concord Coalition to End Homelessness executive director Ellen Groh stands in the interior of the new winter homeless shelter on North Main Street while it was under construction in March. The shelter will house 40 beds and will open on December 17. GEOFF FORESTER

  • A view from inside the Concord Emergency Winter Shelter. Courtesy

  • Concord's Emergency Winter Shelter, built by the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, is set to open on Dec. 17 with 40 beds. The new shelter is located at 238 N. Main St. Courtesy of Ridgelight Studio

Published: 12/2/2018 11:00:03 PM

A few firsts for the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness are on the horizon.

One, their long-awaited winter shelter is expected to open its doors at 7 p.m. on Dec. 17. With 40 beds and shower facilities, the low-barrier shelter brings to an end a period of uncertainty for the city’s homeless population and its advocates.

The now-shuttered St. Peter’s Church was used as a shelter for three years after the First and South congregational churches decided to no longer offer space a few years ago. Each time, it was a scramble to find space. 

Two, coalition executive director Ellen Groh said this year will the first time their shelter will be part of the state’s Homeless Management Information System.

Essentially a database of New Hampshire’s chronically homeless individuals, the system prioritizes the most vulnerable people for permanently supportive housing when it becomes available, Groh said.

Any agency that receives state funding is required to be part of HMIS. But even though the coalition does not receive the funding, Groh said they felt it was important to join the system this year as part of the coalition’s biggest goal – near-zero homelessness in the Capital City.

“It helps us get a better sense of the issue in the state and what kind of housing supply we need,” she said.  “About 90 percent of the population need intensive caseworker support; they usually need some help to get permanently housed.”

Censusing a homeless population is difficult, Groh said, and it’s hard to say how many people will need the shelter this year. She anticipated that, like in previous years, they would start with around 20 people and grow from there.

Part of how the coalition works toward its goal is by keeping its shelters low-barrier, meaning they don’t bar people with substance abuse disorders and they allow people under the influence to stay.

They do no background checks or drug tests, but if someone is acting in an unsafe manner, they’ll be asked to leave, Groh said. Like last year, the shelter will be managed by the coalition and Thrive Outdoors staff and supplemented by volunteers.

“It’s all based on their behavior at the shelter,” she said.

The shelter will not turn away anyone who needs help, Groh said. But resources – and funding – for the shelter are limited, and the shelter is intended for residents of the Concord area only.

The shelter is meant to be a last resort, but Groh said the coalition is in the very early stages of discussing what it would look like to create their own affordable housing. 

Like the emergency shelter, whether such a resource comes about is dependent on the funding the coalition would be able to receive. Building the winter shelter cost roughly $500,000.

“We can’t create housing for people who don’t have an income or their only income is disability benefits,” Groh said. “But that’s still in the investigating stages. It was quite an undertaking to build a shelter; rehabbing apartments is an even bigger undertaking.”

But a community effort to provide permanent housing could serve the city better in the long run.

An individual experiencing chronic homelessness can cost a community between $30,000 and $50,000 per year through the extensive use of public services, such as shelters, hospitals, emergency rooms, jails and prisons, she said in a coalition press release.

In contrast, it costs approximately $12,000 to $15,000 to provide an individual with housing and support through Housing First, she said.

But for now, like its clients, the coalition is just looking to get through the winter. After receiving their certificate of occupancy last week, they’ve got one more thing to build: 20 bunk beds, which are expected to arrive this week.

The shelter will be open every day from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

To learn more, the Coalition can be reached at 290-3375.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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