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Emergency shelter cuts could put more on street, advocates for homeless warn

Union Leader Correspondent

February 10. 2013 8:43PM
Eileen Brady of the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter organizes the linens for the shelter's 30 beds. (SIMON RIOS PHOTO)

NASHUA - Advocates for the homeless are calling the governor to oppose proposed cuts to the Emergency Shelter budget.

According to Elissa Margolin of Housing Action New Hampshire, their voices are being heard.

"We saw the amount that the Bureau of Housing and Homelessness put in their maintenance budget request to the governor," said Margolin, director of the nonprofit. "And then Gov. Hassan made the 97 percent request."

In December, Hassan instructed state agencies to cut budgets by three percent.

The $3.8 million Emergency Shelters budget funds six positions and awards nearly $3.3 million to agencies across the state. Margolin said $597,000 could be cut from the budget over two years.

"What might seem like a very small amount will have a huge devastating impact on the shelter system," she said, adding that agencies are already running on bare-bones finances.

Margolin said dozens called the governor's office after hearing of the cuts through Housing Action, a coalition of 55 organizations.

"I think the provider community is feeling very squeezed," she said. "I haven't seen such a strong response from them in the past."

Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg told the New Hampshire Union Leader that the governor supports the services that assist the homeless.

"We are continuing to make the difficult decisions needed finalize a balanced budget and the governor will be presenting her proposal to the legislature on February 14th," Goldberg wrote in an email.

Margolin said she heard from the governor's office last Thursday, and was confident that people's concerns are being taken into account.

She noted that Gov. John Lynch reduced the current Emergency Shelter budget by seven percent, forcing the Housing and Homelessness Bureau to cut administrative costs without having to stop funding any agencies. Further cuts, she warned, could mean agencies lose some, or all of their state funding.

In the worst case, Margolin said that means more people sleeping on the streets.

Eileen Brady is a social worker at the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, which has 30 beds. Brady said small shelters that rely heavily on state funding are most at risk. Closing shelters in the towns could mean more pressure on places like the Nashua Soup Kitchen and New Horizons in Manchester.

"It's hard enough for people to find lodging of any kind, whether it's a shelter, or whether it's friends or family," Brady said. "This is going to make it much harder, and if places have to close, that's the scariest of all."

Brady argues that cuts only result in spending increases at state and local levels.

"There's a huge downshift to cites and towns," she said.

In spite of the need to provide a bed to those in need, Brady and Margolin agree that shelters are not the solution to homelessness.

Margolin said in the aftermath of the housing crash, an increasing number of people are in rental housing, where prices have increased. She said the state lacks over 20,000 affordable housing units, putting an even greater strain on shelters.

"Many people wake up in homeless shelters and go to work," she said, "and many people wake up in homeless shelters and take their kids to school."

More affordable housing, she said, is where the path to ending homelessness must lead.

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