Liberty House in Manchester has a new leader. Jeff Nelson took the reins as Executive Director of the nonprofit two months ago. Liberty House helps up to ten veterans at a time transition from homelessness to permanent housing. Nelson spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello about how Liberty House does its work and where he thinks it's going.
The Liberty House provides transitional housing for veterans, helping them out of homelessness. How great is the need for a service like this in New Hampshire?
We have waiting lists at times, so it fluctuates. Some of our veterans come from out of state, so it really depends on the timing, so at any given time we might have a full house and a waiting list. At others we may have seven or eight beds filled.
Seven or eight out of ten?
You’ve been on the job for a couple of months. Where do you see Liberty House heading?
We have a variety of issues. Not only do we have the resident veterans that come into our program and stay with us, but we also serve others from the community. Food and clothing—those things are necessities for people who are on the street. So we serve about 150 people a week doing just the food and the clothing in addition to our residents. So we’re very busy.
How do you identify the people that need the help?
They come to us. It seems as though there’s a pretty close-knit homeless community. It seems as though they communicate and we don’t ever have any problem with people coming to our house for a need.
How do you see these services expanding in the Granite State, if at all?
We feel like this business model really works well—the ten bed. We wouldn’t want to be bigger. We would rather take this business model, for instance, and move it to the Seacoast and maybe open a house there. Or Concord. Or wherever the need might be. As far as expansion, that’s where we’d see it going, as opposed to a bigger unit in Manchester.
One of our principles is sobriety, which is inconsistent with federal guidelines for housing and for grants through the federal government.
Meaning, if a veteran stays at Liberty House, they must also be sober?
Yes, we test at admission and randomly throughout their stay with us, so we believe that recovery really begins with sobriety.
And is that effective?
We find that those that stay sober really stay successful. They stay independent. So once they come to us, the first four to six weeks are all about sobriety and recovery. Once they transition from that, we move into job search. Once they find jobs, then we start saving money for the veterans that stay with us. And they transition to looking for apartments in the community—living arrangements. So we have them all prepared and ready to go by the time that they leave.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for not just Liberty House but for any organization trying to help homeless people, homeless veterans in New Hampshire?
It’s always keeping the doors open. It’s always funding—especially when we don’t accept any federal funding. There’s nothing consistent about our donations. So we don’t have anything to rely on that’s consistent. Our donors are incredibly generous. We get all forms of donations—food, clothing, sometimes some small furniture for our veterans who are transitioning out, money. They also provide help at events. We’ve had a lot of events in the last couple of months where people have raised money for us. I certainly feel like a lot of it has to do with consistent funding. That’s really the biggest challenge for a house like ours that doesn’t take the federal funding.
On Saturday, Oct. 14, from noon to 3 p.m., there'll be a softball game between New Hampshire House and Senate Republicans and Democrats in Merrimack. Proceeds will benefit Liberty House. Learn more about the event.