More than 70 families with children are living outside in the Manchester area this winter. They're sleeping in tents or cars, according to Cathy Kuhn, director of the N.H. Coalition to End Homelessness.
Young mothers and pregnant women are in some cases living in tents or abandoned buildings.
"Of course, you think about the long-term consequences that will have both on the mom and the child," Kuhn said on The Exchange.
(Visit here for the full Exchange conversation with Cathy Kuhn, Courtney Blodge, mother of three who was homeless in Manchester; Kyle Stucker, reporter for Foster's Daily Democrat and seacoastonline.com; and Ryan Lawliss, manager of two homeless shelters in Keene.)
Kuhn says the lack of affordable housing is to blame for much of the homelessness in the state. The opioid crisis has also contributed. According to the Coalition, homelessness in New Hampshire among families with children increased by 26 percent over the past year.
Our support agencies rely on volunteers; we need people to help dedicate their time, talent, and their treasure to this work. I would say, yes, contact your agency but also don't forget that when you're walking down the street and you see someone who's homeless, make some eye contact, give a smile, let them know you see them and that you're there, because you may not know someone who is homeless but that person is someone's mother, someone's brother, someone’s son, someone’s daughter, and they deserve respect and dignity, just like everybody else. -- Cathy Kuhn.
Most categories of homeless people increased this past year, although they are mostly at lower levels than in 2015. The overall trend in New Hampshire in recent years has been a decline in homelessness. You can read the Coalition's full report here.
Kyle Stucker, reporter for Foster's Daily Democrat and seacoastonline.com, spent months talking to homeless people for a multimedia series called "Homeless on the Seacoast."
"A lot of these individuals don't feel safe or wanted sometimes in society or don't feel that some of these systems -- based on past experiences -- are going to look out for them. So they've determined that they are better off out on their own in the woods, couch surfing with friends; they look to the shelters for help but these individuals have a variety of backgrounds and each one of them is a person who's struggling through their own particular situation."
Kuhn called the situation in the Manchester area "dire." There are 196 families on the waitlist for 11 units with Families in Transition, an organization that provides social services and housing aid to homeless individuals and families. Of those 196 families, 75 have reported they are now living outside.
Until just a few months ago, Courtney Blodge was among those. At 25, she has struggled with addiction and homelessness. When she was eight months pregnant, she found herself sleeping under a bridge in Manchester. She is now living with her three children in temporary housing provided by Families in Transition.
For Blodge, homelessness has been the norm much of her life; as a child, she says she often lived in temporary situations with her parents. She says she's determined to break that cycle for the sake of her children.
She shared some of her story on The Exchange (remarks are slightly edited for clarity).
Courtney Blodge: A year ago, we lost the apartment we had. It was me and the child’s father and we split up at the same time, so I knew I was going to be homeless. And so my children went with other family members at the time. Then I met somebody else, moved in with them, and then we lost that place too, so we ended up homeless again and ended up living in a tent under the bridge.
I do want to say that for the people that are experiencing homelessness right now, I really hope that you have some hope and faith to get out of your situation, and I really hope that you get past that comfort zone and reach out for help. -- Courtney Blodge.
I got pregnant and it was very upsetting because I knew I was homeless, and I knew it was really an impossible way to take care of another child. But then I thought about it, and I was like, okay, I'm just going to get my stuff together by the time this baby is born. That didn't happen because me and the father ended up splitting up, and I ended up outside, by myself, under a bridge, and was stuck for four months.
But before this, I knew that I was going to be on the street so I had reached out to Families In Transition, and I emailed them and said I'm literally on the streets outside. The first night I had to spend on the ground, it was pretty tough.
I kind of had given up but then an email came and they said that they had an empty room. And so I got my kids back. I was also in recovery at the time, being pregnant the whole time, and I ended up relapsing in the tent, but I went to the Catholic Medical Center and they helped me get through it. So I am now on medication to recover.
Most of my youth, we slept in and out of cars, tents, motel rooms. We bounced a lot to family’s houses too. It was like being an outcast in school, not having the proper clothes to wear all the time, not having showers.
The Exchange heard from several listeners who are currently homeless. Here are their stories:
I’m sitting over my propane campfire right now.
I’m one of those people who lives in the woods because I just like to be left alone. I have a great deal of social anxiety and I have ADHD and apparently I’m autistic also. I quit drinking six and a half years ago, and it hasn't been all good. I could never have articulated before that I drank because of my anxiety.
I do have some particular skills but they’re very under-employed. I’m a bicycle mechanic but I can't quite fit into the bicycle shop scene either because I like to work on old bikes.
I’m living as a homeless woman in Concord. I'm a member of the 2018 class of Granite Leaders, which is a homeless advocacy and training class put on by the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness.
The face of homelessness is changing; the stigma is the drunks and the junkies. I'm not a drunk; I’m not a junkie. I don't have a criminal record, but I am living in one of the shelters here in Concord. The homeless community here is very resourceful in terms of taking care of each other, making sure everyone has enough clothing, blankets, and food.
Mid to late last summer I left a housing situation where two of the people living with me escalated to violence. I did not feel safe in that house. I’m a fiercely independent New Hampshire resident. I’m stubborn; I don’t want to be a burden on my friends, or my employer, or anything like that. I've just been taking opportunities to save money, to build a tiny house is on my list of goals.
I do have a job. The plan for the tiny house is already in progress. This is my first time in an emergency shelter and it’s been a challenge to be there, more so than actually being homeless, in a lot of instances. The only thing keeping me inside is the fact that there’s snow on the ground and I’d freeze at night.
I was once homeless in New Hampshire, due to mental illness. Shelter and health care should be considered rights, not privileges.