NASHUA — Two months after the Maple Arms Emergency Shelter in Nashua converted into a transitional shelter, the city is now bracing for the upcoming winter and its need for emergency beds.
“I think the real issue is that our region is beginning to experience the effects of housing becoming even more unaffordable, and that is pushing people into shelters,” said Michael Reinke, executive director of the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter.
Reinke said he has noticed no spike in homeless needs following the change at Maple Arms, Harbor Homes’ shelter on Maple Street, but he stressed that there are still two other local organizations available to provide emergency shelter for the homeless: his own, and Southern New Hampshire Rescue.
“Our family shelter is always full. We are the only emergency shelter for families in New Hampshire, and we have five spaces for families that are always full,” he said.
Aside from its five family spaces, Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter also offers eight beds for single women and 14 beds for single men. This week, some of those beds for single adults were vacant, according to Reinke.
At the start of the summer, Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter added three beds to its women’s shelter, and there is typically at least one bed available each night, he said.
“Last night though, all of the beds for women were booked,” Reinke said on Friday. “Still, I have not noticed a dramatic increase of people requesting shelter.”
Manchester, on the other hand, is dealing with an increased number of people staying at the Families in Transition-New Horizons shelter. One day last week, more than 160 people stayed at the Manchester shelter, exceeding the number of beds at the facility.
The biggest driver for homelessness is increased housing costs, stressed Reinke.
“This is not a tsunami, it is more like a slow rise in the ocean level,” he said of Nashua’s homeless situation.
Currently, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Nashua is about $1,453 a month — a 20% increase from two years ago, Reinke said. In Manchester, he said, a two-bedroom unit is closer to $1,228 a month.
“It is actually cheaper to live in Manchester, and that is what we are hearing,” he said.
The state budget vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu includes about $2 million statewide for affordable housing, according to Reinke. In comparison, Reinke said Vermont has a budget with about $7 million reserved for affordable housing.
There is a myth that homeless people in the community are from somewhere else, but that isn’t the case, said Reinke, adding everyone who slept on a Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter bed on Thursday night was from Nashua.
“There is certainly a problem for single adults needing a bed to stay in Nashua in the winter time. We will be putting people on cots,” he said.
Peter Kelleher, president and CEO of Harbor Homes, stressed Friday that the Maple Arms shelter in Nashua has not closed, but rather converted to a transitional shelter instead of an emergency shelter. The change was made in an effort to serve those who are chronically homeless and have significant health issues, he said.