On the homeless front, things don’t always go as planned 

  • Executive Director Ellen Groh of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness stands in one of the four apartments at the nearly-completed Green Street Apartments in downtown Concord on GEOFF FORESTER

  • Diana Johnson, marketing relationship manager, (left) and Merrimack County Savings Bank President Linda Lorden wipe down the donated furniture for the fully-furnished apartment for the new Green Street Apartments for four former homeless residents from the Concord area. GEOFF FORESTER

  • The nearly-compledted Green Street Apartments owned by the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness. There will be four apatments on Green Street in downtown Concord. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Executive Director Ellen Groh of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness stands on the porch of one of the four apartments at the nearly-completed Green Street Apartments in downtown Concord on Thursday, November 5, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor columnist
Published: 6/7/2021 5:58:10 PM

Sometimes, even a warm bed and hot water aren’t enough.

The power of addiction, or even a relapse into old habits can jeopardize the stability of a new life that requires a path to sobriety and paying rent.

Old friends, still living on the streets, will come by asking for a place to stay for the night, which is clearly a violation of the new rules that came with the keys to the comfortable apartment. Then, the guests don’t leave, leading to a series of escalating consequences.

Maybe living on the streets for so long, answering to no one, following no rules, proved too big of a draw and lead one of the new tenants to head back to the streets after just a few months.

But the sad truth – for society in general and the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness in particular – is that programs designed to lift up the homeless, give them a sense of responsibility, an identity, don’t always work.

“They need to succeed to stay there,” said Ellen Groh, director of the Concord Coalition to End Homeless. “That means honor the lease, don’t get evicted and stay in a stable environment.”

It sounds easy, and in fact, Groh said 80% of these transplants work out fine. But it’s not easy. Groh and her two case managers do the best they can, conducting extensive screenings and interviews and offering all the support they can to increase the chances of success.

The coalition receives grants and donations, and volunteers are always welcome to help the non-profit achieve its mission, to end homelessness for a few people at a time. That’s how it acquired a four unit apartment building in downtown Concord, renovated and furnished them to provide homes to those who had been homeless the longest and showed a history of stand-up, responsible behavior.

Groh said candidates are interviewed and fill out paperwork, including a questionnaire. There are background checks. The goal is to find a vulnerable person who seems sincere about balancing a checkbook, paying utility bills, avoiding drugs and alcohol, keeping the place clean, keeping the noise down, keeping your friends from staying the night.

And, perhaps, looking for a job.

“We help the people who need the most help to get housed,” Groh said.

Sometimes, though, unseen forces surface. Forces that were hidden from view before the move. Or forces that the individual had no idea were coming. Since opening the new apartments earlier this year as part the coalition’s Housing First Program, two of four tenants have moved out.

Groh was warned about that five years ago at a conference hosted by the state.

“You can not predict who will succeed and who won’t,” Groh said “Your judgment will be biased about the person and their history.”

The 80% who agree to play the game of life in a responsible manner lift the spirits of anyone connected. The scene at a recent move into a new home included smiles everywhere, in a nice apartment.

A few months ago, volunteers helped a homeless person move in, carrying furniture and boxes, assembling beds.

On a Saturday, no less.

Diana Johnson, the marketing manager for Merrimack County Savings Bank, a major funder of the project, was there. Yet, she had no idea that some homeless people, whom she had helped move in, had been evicted recently for breaking the terms of the lease but always knew that was a possibility.

“We wanted to do everything for this (person) on behalf of the bank,” Johnson said. “We will continue to support the Coalition to End Homelessness and their mission.”

With an overwhelming success rate, Groh and her staff must be doing something right. But in an endeavor like this – often involving drug and alcohol addictions and mental illness – the 20% of candidates who are evicted will be a hard number to lower.

So many obstacles. Even moving into a home with a bed and hot water can be a struggle for the homeless.

“Maybe someone is homeless for a week,” Groh said. “They can adjust to this move, which is an emotional upheaval. For the people who have been on the streets for a long time, that can add to the mix of problems.”

Everyone has problems, just like the homeless. Maybe a relative or friend kept your head above water.

Groh’s job is to do the best she can to end pervasive homelessness by giving people the support they need even if they’ve chosen this lifestyle for so many years for one reason or another. For some, it was never a choice.

Groh doesn’t judge.

“It’s bad when people don’t do what I think is in their best interests,” Groh said. “But I am not in their shoes, and I never have been.

“I don’t know what they are facing.”




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