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January 31. 2013 10:26PM

Nashua shelter's success means no deaths

NASHUA - With the fickle nature of New England winter weather on full display of late, officials from the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, Harbor Homes, and the Southern New Hampshire Rescue Mission say the services they provide are helping to save lives.

"A good winter is when no one freezes to death, and, to my knowledge, no one has this year," said Lisa Christie, executive director of the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter. Nashua police confirm there have been no such deaths this year.

"The services we provide absolutely save lives," said Carol Furlong, vice president of services for Harbor Homes.

Combined, the three homeless shelters in a city with over 80,000 residents offer just over 100 beds.

"In the winter time, we usually are over capacity, which is also true of the other shelters in the community. Normally, we have 25 beds, but in the wintertime we have had well over 30 people stay the night. We will put mats on the floor; we will do whatever we have to do. Men and women are separated, and we have a family unit for one family," Furlong said.

Harbor Homes, open since 1982, also provides a clinic, the Harbor Care Health and Wellness Center.

"The medical care is critically important, and this time of year we do see some cold weather injuries. But what we see the most is just basic medical needs gone undiagnosed and untreated because the person is homeless," Furlong said.

Along with private donations, Harbor Homes receives some city funding. However, Furlong said that most of the $8.2 million operating budget comes from the federal government.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Southern New Hampshire Rescue Mission, a nonprofit organization whose entire operating budget comes from private donations.

"We can hold 45 people, and we only take men over the age of 18, and we have been at the limit recently, stretched right out to the 45 mark," Rescue Mission interim operations director Larry Byrd said.

A faith-based organization open for the last 10 years and operating a shelter for five, the mission also operates programs providing small meals and clothing to those in need. Byrd said the food program, with food donations from local churches, serves 30 to 100 people daily.

Associated with the Gospel Rescue Mission, Byrd said mission is always looking for donations of food, clothes or cash, and that most clothes donated are redistributed within 48 hours.

"Since right around Christmas, our requests for clothing donations have probably tripled," Byrd said.

Along with providing a homeless shelter and soup kitchen, the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter also participates in the Burlington Coat Factory One Warm Coat program.

"We give out a lot of coats, hats, gloves, and mittens. A lot of times people bring their kids, and sometimes they will come and not have a coat," Christie said.

During the recent cold snap, she said, "we gave out more coats than normal, and during the beginning of the winter it wasn't so cold so no one wanted a coat. Then we had this bitter cold, and now it's warming up again, so the weather has been crazy."

Unfortunately, Christie said they no longer take private donations of clothing due to concern over bed bugs.

On a daily average at the soup kitchen, 65 people eat breakfast and 120 come for dinner, Christie said.

The shelter has been open since 1981. She said 75 percent of its funding comes from private contributions, with some money from the city and state.

Christie said the organization's 30 beds are split between two different locations, and that if someone shows up in the middle of the night, even if at capacity, they will take them in.

"We have cots, and we will put them on a couch if we have to," Christie said. "I think we provide critical services to people who don't have food or shelter. It's hard to stay outside too long when it is so cold."

For more information about Harbor Homes, visit their website at www.harborhomes.org, or call 882-3616. For more information about the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, visit their website at www.nsks.org or call 889-7770.

The Southern New Hampshire Rescue Mission can be reached at 889-3412.

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