Officials from Southwestern Community Services and the Hundred Nights, Inc. homeless shelter hosted a community discussion about homelessness in Keene on Thurs. Feb. 5 at the Keene Public Library.
The group of experts and citizens met on the lower level of the library to discuss issues the homeless face as well as some of the different services in Keene for them.
“Is it possible to try and turn the help in a different direction?” Dennis Calcutt asked, one of many open-ended questions asked to the group. Calcutt works with NH Listens, a group that aims to solve real world problems with community-based organizing and discussion.
According to their website, New Hampshire Listens, “Our vision is to create a network of engaged communities in New Hampshire that can share their experiences and resources for getting ‘unstuck’ and solving public problems.”
Last year the group facilitated a community discussion in Keene about substance abuse.
The group went on to discuss some of the problems with the organization of care facilities designed to help the homeless. Keene Fire Chief Mark Howard expressed his disappointment with how difficult it is to get help for someone.
“You’d think that we have the technology that in twenty-four hours you could make things happen for someone,” Howard said. Other community members also expressed problems they’ve had with “connecting all the dots,” as one community member put it.
The group agreed that often it’s hard to organize communication between food kitchens, shelters and government provided care.
Another problem faced by those who help the homeless are county guidelines on who to help. According to Liz Sayre, manager of Human Services in the City of Keene, if someone from Winchester came to a Keene facility for help or treatment, they would often be turned away. Keene can’t be responsible for the homeless of other parts of the state. Sayre said, “Our guidelines allow me to help them, by referring them back to their town.”
Keene simply can’t be responsible for other regions homeless according to Sayre. Ryan Bell, a veteran who works with the homeless, said the homelessness problem reaches further than Keene.
“I don’t think this is regional, I think it’s a national problem we face,” Bell said.
According to the numbers, it is a national problem.
The most recent report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated 610,042 people (as of 2013) were homeless in the United States. 92,593 people were considered chronically homeless as individuals. Bell went on to praise how Utah helps their homeless with a “housing first mentality,” as he put it.
Utah will continue to house the homeless until they eventually adopt that lifestyle. Some homeless actually prefer living homeless rather than in an apartment or house.
“There are those who seek shelter immediately, and those who you couldn’t drag into a shelter on the coldest night,” one Keene resident added.
“Retrain the brain” is a philosophy Bell has adopted in helping the homeless. Bell said he tries to change the mindset of these individuals, some who choose homeless living over other options.
“It’s a pretty fragile line between people today that are making it, and people today that aren’t making it,” Howard said, “Don’t give up on anybody. Because if you do, there will be a much bigger issue.”
Skyler Frazer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org