Report: Homelessness on the rise in NH
By Kyle Stucker
The overall number of homeless people across the state rose by 11 percent in 2017, while the number of homeless families and students increased by 26 and 6 percent, respectively, according to a newly released report.
The New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness released its annual report on Friday, and it cites rising rent prices and decreasing rental vacancy rates as key contributing factors for why homelessness has increased in nearly every category between 2016 and 2017.
“Increasing rents compounded by extremely low vacancy rates make it almost impossible for those with the lowest incomes to secure stable housing for themselves and their families,” NHCEH Executive Director Cathy Kuhn writes in the report.
Much of the data conveyed in the NHCEH report comes from figures recorded as part of the annual Point-in-Time count. The count is a federally mandated count held across the country every Jan. 25.
NHCEH and local officials say the count helps compare progress made each year, however they also say it only tells a portion of the story because it only looks at certain types of homelessness and doesn’t count most of the increasing number of adults and youth who couch-surf. Local officials say the nomadic and private nature of homeless individuals also makes the count’s data less reliable in rural areas, of which New Hampshire has many.
Of the 1,456 individuals reported as experiencing homelessness in 2017, approximately 53 percent were single adults and 47 percent were persons in families with children, according to NHCEH.
Those numbers are lower than the Point-in-Time figures reported in 2015. Alix Campbell of Strafford County Community Action Program said that while homelessness is definitely increasing, she believes this year’s figures may also show an upward trend because agencies across the Seacoast and state are getting better at collecting the data.
The NHCEH report also notes that during the 2016-17 school year, there were a reported 365 unaccompanied homeless students, up from 251 in 2015-16. Of the 365 students, 39 were living unsheltered while attending school, according to the coalition’s report.
Again, those numbers tell but part of the story. The most recent youth data available from the New Hampshire Department of Education indicates there were 3,350 homeless students in the state during the 2015-16 school year, which is a 2.4 percent increase over the previous year, based on information gathered by local school districts.
“The increase in the numbers of children and families experiencing homelessness is concerning,” said Kuhn. “Reversing this growth will require continued commitment and investment in the proven strategies that we know are successful in quickly rehousing those who become homeless.”
Welfare officials, school districts, shelters and social service agencies have all told Seacoast Media Group about similar increases that aren’t reflected in the Point-in-Time numbers.
Individuals from each of those sectors, as well as Kuhn, urge individuals not to look at any state-level homelessness figures in a vacuum. They say that’s because many of these homeless individuals, particularly youth and unsheltered adults, go to great lengths to avoid detection due to the precarious and sometimes illegal nature of their living situations.
That type of feedback is among the reasons why this year’s NHCEH report includes for the first time anecdotal stories from individuals on the front lines. Kuhn said the change was made to better raise awareness of the complex and diverse issue that is homelessness, as she and others say increasing overall awareness and understanding is a key first step in identifying new and lasting solutions.
?(We believe) NH should be a place where everyone has an opportunity to live and thrive, where children and adults have the resources and tools that they need to positively contribute to the state’s prosperity,” Kuhn writes in her report. “We have an opportunity right now to capitalize on this enhanced understanding and growing momentum for change.”
Homeless on the Seacoast: View the special report at Seacoastonline.com/homeless.