Column: Granite Leaders investing in, emboldening NH’s homeless
CONCORD — Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with a number of individuals during a session of the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness’ Granite Leaders program in Concord.
I’m probably going to sound like a broken record to those of you who have been following Seacoast Media Group’s homelessness coverage over the past several months, but this session served as yet another example of how the classic homeless stereotype really doesn’t apply in the Granite State.
Throughout our reporting, we’ve found that most of the Seacoast’s sheltered individuals, tenters, couch-surfers and unsheltered persons actually do want to improve their situations without gaming public assistance pathways, as some people believe. What was readily apparent from the very first moments of last week’s Granite Leaders session is that each of the 12 participants is incredibly motivated to help other people struggling with homelessness — not just themselves.
“For me, it took one person to say, ‘OK, we’re going to make a place for you,’” Grace Jones, 42, of Concord, said after the session.
Jones said she turned her life around after a Concord brew pub owner took a chance on her by giving her a job and access to his car. She’s hoping to “rabble-rouse” and inspire more empathy for homeless individuals, in addition to leading the charge on some nontraditional housing ideas around her community.
“It’s a hard risk to take when you don’t know a person,” she said. “We have to reinvest in people instead of treating them like invisible garbage.”
Granite Leaders is a six-month, biennial program that helps homeless individuals from throughout the state build their skills and learn how to advocate for themselves and others. NHCEH’s goal is to help combat the stigma and stereotypes associated with homelessness, and NHCEH Director Cathy Kuhn said it’s both common and rewarding to see Granite Leaders look beyond their own needs and ends while in the program.
“I thoroughly love this,” she said. “What has been so inspiring to me is the motivation and passion. They’re so passionate about the change they want to make. They don’t want others to experience what they went through and that comes out in their actions.”
Many of the Granite Leaders present last Thursday voiced goals related to deepening public understanding and awareness regarding homelessness. That’s exactly what every local official, shelter, social service agency and homeless individual described as the most pressing need, beyond affordable housing, while we worked on the Homeless on the Seacoast series, the Rochester warming shelter coverage and the rest of our recent stories related to homelessness.
The overarching focus of last week’s Granite Leaders session was focused on how participants can effectively communicate their message and goals with the media. Union Leader columnist Katie McQuaid, Patch.com editor Tony Schinella and I fielded questions along those lines as members of NHCEH’s media panel.
Kuhn said a big part of every Granite Leaders session is giving participants opportunities to forge connections with members of the community. Politicians, business leaders and others participate in the program’s different panels and sessions, and Granite Leaders spoke after last Thursday’s session about how that has helped them greatly.
Craig, a 70-year-old Manchester man who recently became financially secure for the first time in his life, said he’s always considered himself to be a “misfit” in society. It’s why he said he found school difficult and why he turned to alcohol and crime.
He’s been in long-term recovery for 16 years and out of prison for 10 years, and he’s been trying to help others on the Queen City’s streets because he recognizes that homelessness can quickly bring a devastating and crushing sense of “hopelessness.” He hopes to write a book in addition to continuing to spend time with homeless individuals in his city, as he believes the true path out of homelessness comes from understanding the importance of “doing something purposeful with your life.”
“When I found out about this (program), a bell went off,” he said. “I want to be part of it and contribute in some way … People up against this don’t see a door.”
More information about NHCEH’s Granite Leaders program is available at www.nhceh.org/graniteleaders. The current session ends in April.
To learn more about homelessness in the Seacoast area, visit seacoastonline.com/homeless.