Evicted Penacook veteran will find new home in Manchester

  • Veteran Earl Couch has lived in his one-bedroom apartment in Penacook for the last 13 years, sharing the apartment with his late wife Rose. She died two and a half years ago, after more than two decades of marriage. Now, Couch lives with his three cats and hopes that he has found a new place in Manchester. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Veteran Earl Couch has lived in his one-bedroom apartment in Penacook for the last 13 years, sharing the apartment with his late wife Rose. She died two and a half years ago, after more than two decades of marriage. Now, Couch lives with his three cats and hopes that he has found a new place in Manchester. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Veteran Earl Couch has lived in his one-bedroom apartment in Penacook for the last 13 years, sharing the apartment with his late wife Rose. She died two and a half years ago. Geoff Forester / Monitor staff

  • Veteran Earl Couch has lived in his one-bedroom apartment in Penacook for the last 13 years, sharing the apartment with his late wife Rose. She died two and a half years ago, after more than two decades of marriage. Now, Couch lives with his three cats and hopes that he has found a new place in Manchester. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Veteran Earl Couch has lived in his one-bedroom apartment in Penacook for the last 13 years, sharing the apartment with his late wife Rose. She died two and a half years ago, after more than two decades of marriage. Now, Couch lives with his three cats and hopes that he has found a new place in Manchester. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Vietnam veteran Earl Couch has lived in his one-bedroom apartment in Penacook for the last 13 years, sharing the apartment with his late wife Rose. She died 2½ years ago after more than two decades of marriage. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/25/2021 7:40:31 PM

After six months of searching for a new place to live, Penacook resident Earl Couch has finally found a new home in Manchester. Right on the date of his eviction on October 1, Couch will move into an apartment that will allow the 74-year-old veteran to avoid homelessness and keep his three cats.

Even though finding this apartment is a win that highlights the robust resources for veterans in New Hampshire, Couch is disappointed to be leaving Penacook and Concord, where he was born and raised.

He started searching for a new apartment in April, after a new owner bought the five-unit building at 29 Washington St. and decided to evict the tenants to upgrade the rentals.

Merrimack County has a vacancy rate of 0.4%, meaning that apartments are scarce even for people who can afford rents that have climbed 20% in the past five years, according to the 2021 rental survey from New Hampshire Housing.

Even with a housing voucher that covers much of his rent and help from a caseworker at the New Hampshire Department of Veterans Services, Couch hit dead ends.

“You keep filling out applications and spending $30 here, $30 there, when you’re on a fixed income, that adds up,” he said. “You just get totally discouraged, you don’t know what to do or where to turn or who to turn to.”

In the most frustrating example, he was approved for a remodeled apartment in Laconia and just waiting for an inspection before he could move in when an electrical fire started in the attic and burned the house down.

Couch had lived in the one-bedroom on Washington Street for 13 years, paying $750 a month in rent for the apartment he shared with his late wife, Rose.

The walls are decorated with Native American art, a nod to Rose’s ancestry, including a picture of a cat in a Native headdress she spent a year making as a Christmas gift while she was in a nursing home. She died nearly three years ago after more than 22 years of marriage.

“She’s in a better place,” he said. “I was ready to go join her; I was getting to the point where I didn’t care.”

He has lived most of his life in Concord, aside from the three years he spent fighting in the Vietnam War. “It’s hard to get uprooted after that long a time,” he said.

Couch’s new Manchester apartment is more expensive, with a monthly rent of $995 for a one-bedroom, but with his voucher, he will only pay $238.

The landlord will also allow him to keep his cats Meatball, Spiky and Lily, who he refers to as his kids.

“When I’m sick and I’m in bed, they’re right there with me. They won’t leave my side,” he said. “That’s what I want in life. At my age, 74, what the hell else do I got to live for?”

Veteran homelessness in NH

If Couch hadn’t found the apartment in Manchester, he might have become a statistic: a homeless vet.

There are currently 104 homeless veterans in New Hampshire, which includes people in transitional housing, said David Tille, Director of Veterans Services at Harbor Care in Nashua. Transitional housing, which comes with supportive services that make it a bridge to more independent living, can last up to two years.

Ten of those veterans are unsheltered, in some cases because they refused available shelter options.

According to the most recent data Tille provided, which does not distinguish between veterans who are sheltered or unsheltered, there are three homeless vets in Merrimack County and one in Concord.

A constellation of federal and state programs and nonprofit organizations are working to make veteran homelessness in New Hampshire as rare and brief as possible. Last year, New Hampshire became the first state where every mayor has committed to ending veteran homelessness.

“We feel strongly that any veteran seeking housing should never be forced to sleep on the streets,” Tille said.

“Not only is it important, but it’s attainable. It’s something we can achieve and should make it our legacy to achieve.”

Tille formerly worked as the New England regional director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, before joining Habor Care, which annually helps more than 400 veterans and family members secure housing in part by running housing facilities for vets and providing case management.

Tille says veterans face homelessness for some of the same reasons as other people, including a tight rental market. However, they can also encounter additional challenges, like post-traumatic stress and service-related injuries. Veterans can also be independently minded and reluctant to ask for help.

Couch used to fit into that mold.

“I was a little bit skeptical about asking for help; I am independent and by myself,” he said. “There does come a time when there is a crisis and you need the help, and the resources are there. And you pick up the phone.”

Picking up the phone helped: His caseworker at the New Hampshire Department of Veteran Services helped him find this apartment, and the agency is paying the security deposit. He would advise fellow vets to do the same and seek out resources that exist.

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, 82 communities and 3 states have met federal benchmarks for ending veteran homelessness, including the city of Nashua, which announced it had effectively ended veteran homelessness in 2017.

In those communities, there is no long-term or chronic homelessness among vets, and those who do become homeless can quickly access permanent housing in an average of 90 days or sooner.

“It doesn’t mean a veteran will never be homeless or at risk of homelessness, but should they be, there’s a system in place,” Tille said. “We’re striving to accomplish that statewide in New Hampshire, and we’re close to that.”

Landlords can help end veteran homelessness by providing permanent housing, Tille said. The need is highest in populated areas, where enough rentals just aren’t available.

One way landlords can help is by accepting HUD-VASH vouchers, which combine U.S. Department of Housing and Development vouchers with case management from the Veterans Affairs Administration to help the most vulnerable homeless vets.

Here in Concord, the police department is developing a model for when officers encounter people with prior military service who are experiencing homelessness. Deputy Chief Steven Smagula is working with staff from the Partnership for Successful Living to coordinate connecting homeless vets to resources.

Earl’s future

Couch and some friends will gradually move his possessions to Manchester in his truck before next Friday, when he will be locked out of his old apartment. He is looking forward to getting settled in a new long-term home with his three cat “kids.”

“I’m excited,” he said. “I love it.”

The place where he’ll be moving on October 1 has a tile kitchen and a good-sized bedroom.

He is the last person remaining in the building after his neighbors were evicted. Couch said his U.S. Postal Service mail carrier had stopped delivering his mail after being told that no one was living there anymore.

The search took a long time in part because Couch is on a limited income of just over $1,000 a month. Even though he has a housing voucher, he can only use it for a rental that is fair market rate, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency that subsidizes the vouchers.

Although he was ultimately successful in finding a new home, he found the process of trying to remain in the city where he grew up infuriating.

“These congressmen, they don’t realize if you got a person out here who’s on a fixed income and you keep building these condos, who can afford them?” Couch said. “They talk about low-income housing; where is it? There is none.”

He wonders about the people at the homeless camp off of Exit 13, which was dismantled earlier this week to make room for a planned mixed-use development. If he struggled to find a place, where will they go?

“There’s gonna be a war in this country between the rich and the poor, and the poor are going to win. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. More and more people are becoming homeless every day,” he said.

If you are a veteran who is currently homeless or at risk of homelessness or know one, you can dial hotline 211 and ask for homeless outreach to be connected with local resources.


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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