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March 17. 2012 11:45PM

Efforts to battle homelessness bearing fruit in Nashua area

NASHUA— A recent survey by a coalition of area service organizations found that 311 people in Greater Nashua are homeless. Although most of these people have access to some form of shelter, 33 are living on the street.

The study was conducted by the Greater Nashua Continuum of Care, a coalition of some 30 service organizations in Nashua and nine neighboring communities. It shows the continuing decline in homelessness over the past five years. The number of homeless residents has decreased by 271 since 2006, when 582 people were counted.

More striking is the decrease in those without shelter, of which there were 370 in 2006 and 33 today — a decrease of more than 90 percent.

Wendy LeBlanc, who chairs the continuum, said the success is due to federal programs that target niche groups such as veterans and AIDS patients.

“We're doing the best we can to maximize the funding that comes into our community to provide services for people who are homeless or at risk,” said LeBlanc, who's also assistant director of the Southern New Hampshire HIV/AIDS Task Force.

“There have been some significant advances in providing transitional and permanent housing for veterans, and so we have many fewer homeless veterans.”

In addition to the general homeless population, the study looked at sub-groups: HIV/AIDS patients (zero homeless), veterans (68), unaccompanied youth (four), victims of domestic violence (24), the mentally ill (37) and chronic substance abusers (48).

The number of unsheltered veterans has shown the most dramatic decrease since 2006, dropping from 104 to about four today.

LeBlanc said programs to provide housing opportunities to niche groups free up resources for the general population, relieving demand on housing assistance programs like Section 8.

Federal stimulus money was also injected into the New Hampshire economy, LeBlanc said, ensuring that many people didn't end up homeless as a result of the recession.

In spite of the study's positive findings, LeBlanc said the work is ongoing: “As long as we have one person who's homeless still on the street, we haven't succeeded in doing our job.”


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