On Wednesday, March 21, Professor of Sociology Therese Seibert presented “Homelessness in New Hampshire: More Than Meets The Eye.”

“You don’t know what a homeless person necessarily looks like,” was the message Dr. Therese Seibert said a homeless Keene State College student had told her class.

Emily Perry / Equinox Staff

Emily Perry / Equinox Staff

Seibert said her academic interest in homelessness began nearly a decade ago. She said she was teaching a course on community research when someone from New Hampshire’s Bureau of Homeless and Housing Services, who, due to budget cuts, was reaching out to colleges for students to do research for a statewide needs assessment.

“What it involved was the students interviewing the residents of Keene homeless shelters, and we decided as a class that we would visit the shelters before we actually conducted the interviews out of respect to introduce ourselves to the residents, and by the third shelter, we were all pretty broken. We had no idea how extensive the problem of homelessness was in the area.”

The project was a success and later became a permanent course titled, “SOC-370 Homelessness in New Hampshire and USA”, Seibert said.

“I added more to the class, so I partnered with Hundred Nights and I’ve been partnering with them since. And the class requires students to stay overnight, work at intake, make a couple dinners and, in addition to that, I bring in speakers from the city of Keene, Hundred Nights, [Southwestern Community] Services [and] different agencies so that students get a different perspective on homelessness,” Seibert said.

Kimberly Simmons, a Keene resident, said she came to the event to learn more about local homelessness. “It’s been difficult not to notice that we have a small homeless issue, so to speak.”

For the first half of the presentation, Seibert went over homelessness statistics and trends in both New Hampshire and Cheshire county, along with definitions of different types of homelessness, ranging from student homelessness to chronic homelessness.

“I didn’t know that there was a different definition between student homelessness and regular homelessness,” Sarah Hart, a senior sociology and communication major, said.

Hart said she came to the event as part of a writing assignment and had an interest in homelessness in the community.

Seibert explained discrepancies in homelessness criteria between what the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development, as the former considers couch surfing (frequently moving from one temporary home to the next) as homelessness while the latter does not.

In what she called putting faces behind the numbers, Seibert read the transcript of an interview with a homeless man talking about his hopes and dreams.

Seibert asked the audience to give examples of common stereotypical traits of the homeless, like alcoholism and mental illness.

She said that it’s more likely for someone to become an alcoholic by being homeless than vice versa.

One solution Seibert discussed was the concept of “Housing First,” which, first and foremost, gives the homeless a place to live.

“In the past, it’s been a type of policy where people need to be housing ready before they get housing, whereas the housing first argument says it’s hard to be housing ready, meaning attaining sobriety or addressing substance abuse issues, mental health issues or addressing getting a job, if you don’t have a home. It’s easier to address those issues when you’re in a home,” Seibert said.

Seibert said  she was putting on the event to help educate the public on the advances made on local and state levels, as well as the challenges they still face in regards to homelessness.

She also said she wanted to showcase the work her students are doing in the community and throughout the state.

The event was hosted by The Keene State Presents: Open College program.

Vincent Moore can be contacted at vmoore@kscequinox.com

Share and Enjoy !