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Homeless shelter funds boosted

Union Leader Correspondent

February 15. 2013 10:30PM

NASHUA - Advocates for the homeless are giving a thumbs up to Gov. Maggie Hassan's 2014 proposed budget, after threats to cut emergency shelter funding didn't materialize following an outcry from the community.

"We were very pleased," said Melissa Margolin of Housing Action New Hampshire, the nonprofit that alerted organizations across the state about a potential $600,000 cut to the nearly $4 million budget for emergency shelters.

Instead of cutting, Hassan recommended an increase of $278,000 over 2014 and 2015.

"The governor was responsive to the provider community's outcry to make sure that the maintenance budget requested to ensure that shelter contracts could continue to receive their funding," Margolin said.

Margolin said the providers who took to the phones should be congratulated for making themselves heard, as well as Hassan, who "understands that it's important to provide full funding to the very bottom of the safety net."

Still, the budget process if far from through, and contested revenue projections could result in proposed cuts from some quarters. Margolin noted that Hassan's budget contains $80 million in casino revenue - if the gambling question is not agreed on by the Legislature, the same amount would need to be cut from the budget.

Kevin Kintner, program director at New Horizons in Manchester, said while it was good to hear that shelters were not immediately facing cuts, this was only the first step in the budget process.

What Hassan proposed and what the Legislature approve in the actual budget may differ, Kintner said. '"I also know this is a proposed budget," Kintner said. "I'm not 100 percent going 'yay' yet."

Margolin said her colleagues among homeless advocates may still have work ahead.

"We'll be watching the process very closely to make sure that it's not where they find additional revenue," she said.

Margolin met Friday with House members responsible for the sections of the budget deal with funding shelters. She said preserving the funding for emergency shelters is wise, not only to maintain the safety net, but from a financial standpoint. She said a night in a shelter costs about $40, whereas a night in a hospital bed can cost $1,500.

"One night in hospital is almost the same as an entire year in a shelter," she said.

The organization also keeps numbers on costs for incarceration and group home residency. In all cases, Margolin said, the state saves by funding shelters.

Currently, the $3.8 million emergency shelters budget funds six positions and awards nearly $3.3 million to agencies across the state. Kintner said many shelters are already operating at the bottom line while the number of people seeking shelter services continues to increase.

"We're the last rung for a lot of people," he said.

Prior to Hassan's budget address Thursday, Margolin said that, based on information provided by the Bureau of Housing and Homelessness, $597,000 could have been cut from the budget over two years.

The late push by the shelter community may have averted further cuts.

"It didn't hurt. Let's put it that way," said Eileen Brady of the Nashua Soup Kitchen. "Big responses never hurt."

Brady also planned to keep an eye on where Hassan's proposal goes from here.

"That's step one," she cautioned. "It looks good but it's not a guarantee, so there's still a lot of work to do."

Brady said that when cuts loom, mobilizing a community is the best response.

"That's an old, old lesson from a long time ago," she said. "That's why people bothered to do this kind of thing, because they know that it is effective in a lot of cases, and you hope that it is effective in your case." Union Leader staff writer Doug Alden contributed to this report.

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