Penacook resident packs up, prepares for homelessness 

Monitor staff
Published: 9/4/2021 4:00:07 PM

Linda McKenna, 56, has reached the end of her luck. A judge granted her 30 extra days to look for housing last month, after her apartment building at 29 Washington St. in Penacook was sold this spring and the new owners decided to evict the previous tenants in order to renovate the building. 

But McKenna’s reprieve ends on Sept. 5. This Sunday is her last day in the apartment where she has lived for three decades, and her first day of homelessness. She and her son plan to live in her car – without the pets that she’s had for years. “We’ll be in the car someplace,” she said.

Last week, the Supreme Court officially ended the federal eviction moratorium. Although that moratorium never protected people like McKenna and her neighbors because they were evicted for a reason other than nonpayment of rent, other renters affected by the COVID-19 pandemic were able to stay in their housing. 

In Merrimack County, rents for two-bedroom apartments have increased 20% over the last five years up to a median rent of $1,339 a month, according to a New Hampshire Housing survey. The county’s vacancy rate is 0.4%, much lower than the 6.8% rate for the country as a whole.

McKenna has spent the last month much like every other one since she received her first eviction notice; frantically looking for a new apartment, but finding herself stymied by high rental costs, long wait lists and, now, the black mark that the eviction proceeding has placed on her rental record. 

A few weeks ago, the anxiety of facing homelessness sent her to the hospital for a heart attack her doctors told her was stress-induced. 

In the meantime, she found new homes for her cats and reptiles. She put a nice wooden high-chair her granddaughter once used out the street for a stranger to take home. 

Each day over the last week, she has tried to rent a U-Haul truck to bring some of her possessions to storage but found they were all booked. “It seems like everyone’s getting evicted and all the trucks are used,” McKenna said. 

Some of her neighbors have already been locked out of their apartments. A single mom, Janice Pickering, has already left with her four sons. 

Earl Couch, a 74-year-old disabled veteran, has until Oct. 1 to vacate the Penacook building. Searching for an apartment is difficult and made even harder because he doesn’t own a computer. 

“I’m on a fixed income, I’m disabled. Where does that leave us?” Couch said. “They keep breaking up homeless camps, and it only takes one to screw it up for some people. They’re bringing condos here by the cemetery, but it won’t be anything I can afford.”

“Every time you turn around, you hit a brick wall,” he said. 

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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