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April 03. 2013 8:41PM

Homeless population around 300 in Greater Nashua, study finds

NASHUA - There are more than 300 people in the greater Nashua area who are struggling with homelessness, according to data released on Wednesday.
The Ending Homelessness Committee, a group of representatives from social service agencies, local churches, hospitals and housing programs, is hoping to reduce the homeless population in the region - an estimated 306 people - to about 125 within three years.

Bob Mack, Nashua's welfare officer, is optimistic that the number of homeless people in Greater Nashua can be decreased to 250 individuals within one year, 200 within two years and possibly down to 125 in a three-year span.

"I don't think that these are outrageous numbers," Mack said on Wednesday during a meeting at Nashua City Hall. "I think that we continue to see a slight decrease."

According to the Greater Nashua Continuum of Care website, the homeless population in the area has been declining since 2006 when the total number of homeless individuals was recorded at 582.

The numbers have been steadily decreasing since then, with 346 homeless people reported in the Nashua region in 2010 and 311 the following year, says the website.

While there has been progress, committee members agree there is still much more to do.

"The goal is to reduce the number of chronically homeless people by creating more housing," said Mack. "It is good to identify the numbers, but we have to put them into our plan."

The Greater Nashua Continuum of Care was created in 1995, and later established its Greater Nashua Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, a document that has an expired time frame but is still alive and ongoing.

Mack is recommending several revisions to the plan, including a clarification of the group's goal, which should now be identified as ending homelessness as it currently exists.

By focusing on annual intervals and attempting to decrease the homeless population by about 50 or more individuals each year during the next three years, it could become a reality, said Mack.

In order to decrease the homeless population, permanent housing beds for chronically homeless individuals must be increased from 115 to about 141 in the next decade, according to recommendations in the document.

In addition, the communities must increase the percentage of homeless persons moving from temporary housing to permanent housing by at least 65 percent, states the plan.

Other goals include partnering with landlords who are willing to offer short-term leases to rapidly house homeless persons in apartments rather than shelter units or motel placements; create an organized strategy of resource acquisition for affordable housing; and utilize funding resources for homeless prevention and rapid rehousing.

"We are very much on target with these goals," Mack said.

Wendy LeBlanc, chairman of the Greater Nashua Continuum of Care, said agencies such as Marguerite's Place in Nashua have a very high success rate of moving clients into permanent housing, while other agencies such as Keystone Hall in Nashua have more of a challenge tracking clients who may leave without properly informing anyone.

Many items included in the 10-year plan have already been accomplished or are ongoing, according to the committee.

Zoning changes are being supported that provide opportunities for the development of new affordable housing units, a regional revolving loan fund to assist with emergency mortgage and rental subsidies for eviction prevention has been established, and communication has improved with local landlord associations and other housing resources willing to rent to homeless and at-risk households.

"It is a really impressive list of accomplishments," said Moe Daniels of Nashua, a committee member.

She commended the "silent heroes" for doing so much to combat the homeless problem in southern New Hampshire.

Still, the major challenge remains state funding to remedy some of these issues, according to Eileen Brady of the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter.

"We need more advocacy for mental health and substance abuse funding," said Brady.

Another committee member, Kevin O'Meara, stressed the importance of getting city businesses and retailers involved in the homeless prevention efforts, possibly by helping to provide employment to those individuals wandering the streets on a daily basis.

The homeless data collected in the Greater Nashua area includes Brookline, Amherst, Hollis, Merrimack, Milford, Mont Vernon, Hudson, Litchfield and Mason.

khoughton@newstote.com


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