?Homeless problem to bust budget

The New Hampshire Union Leader
October 14, 2019
Mark Hayward

In three months, about 41 percent of money for housing help is spent.

MANCHESTER — The city Welfare Department will

likely overspend its housing budget this year, thanks to the capacity limits at the New Horizons homeless shelter, the tight housing market, and the lack of shelters in many New Hampshire communities, according to the city’s welfare director.

Welfare Director Charleen Michaud said she spent $80,200 for housing-related welfare payments from July to the end of September, which amount to the first three months of the city budget year. That was roughly 41 percent of her $196,000 budget for housing-related benefits. With nine months to go in her budget and winter approaching, Michaud said she expects to overspend the line item.

So far, most of the spending has focused on covering missed rental payments and other means to keep at-risk tenants in their apartments.

“Given the statewide housing crisis and the lack of available shelter space statewide, it is essential that local welfare departments assist residents to salvage their rental situations whenever possible,” Michaud wrote in an email to the New Hampshire Union Leader. “Our No. 1 priority at this time is to prevent homelessness when possible.”

Of the 122 households that received help for housing in the last three months, 65 were adult-only households.

On Oct. 1, Families in Transition implemented a strict capacity limit — 138 people per night — at the New Horizons shelter on Manchester Street.

Twice so far this month — on Oct. 8 and 12 — the shelter was at capacity, said Families in Transition spokesman Michele Talwani on Monday. A total of five men were turned away and encouraged to call 211.

“It was not an easy decision. It’s all based on safety,” Talwani said.

The building has limited space and staff, she said. In August, during a night of heavy rain, more than 160 people bedded down at the shelter, she said.

Under state law, city and town welfare departments must provide basic necessities when all else fails, said Elliott Berry, managing

attorney of the Manchester office of New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

He said no one who has been locked out of the shelter has approached his agency yet, but he expects that may happen as the weather worsens in the coming months.

“It’s got to be something she (Michaud) has been thinking a lot about,” Berry said.

He said the Welfare Department has improved drastically since the change of its administration from elected welfare director to an appointed position. Michaud started the job about 1 1/2 years ago.

Michaud said she visited New Horizons recently and brought applications for assistance and lists of rooming houses. She advised New Horizons caseworkers to work with clients who have income, whether from a job or Social Security disability, and to have them look for a rooming house. The Welfare Department would help with initial rent, she said.

But people who are homeless, especially those with an eviction history, may find it difficult to find a willing landlord; many rooming houses are full and have waiting lists, she said.

Michaud said many welfare directors from outside the city refer their residents to New Horizons. She has

informed them of the new policy at New Horizons and asked them to stop sending their residents to Manchester.

She said meetings are ongoing to address the capacity limit at New Horizons.

“I’m hoping in the short term it will involve opening up at least one if not several temporary winter shelters in the state. Statewide, we need more shelters and more affordable housing,” she said.

Talwani has welcomed help from outside agencies at New Horizons. Managed-care companies helped sign up clients for Medicaid. The Department of Health and Human Services offered benefits such as SSI and food stamps. And state officials are discussing fast-tracking applications for driver licenses and non-driver IDs; such identification is necessary to receive benefits, Talwani said.

Michaud said the Welfare Department has experienced a significant increase in the number of intakes and appointments. However, most homeless people do not seek out city welfare, she said.

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