NASHUA — With welfare assistance on the rise in 2019, a new community survey is being undertaken this week to determine how many homeless people are living in the Gate City.
For the second consecutive year, an aldermanic panel is recommending that the city increase its financial standards for welfare guidelines, in part because of high housing costs.
Outreach workers are tracking down homeless individuals who may be living under bridges, in the woods or behind the library, according to Robert Mack, the city’s welfare officer.
“They are going out and making a concerted effort to count, for one, to see where they are staying, count any numbers and try to engage these people to bring them in to get them connected to other resources,” Mack told the aldermanic Human Affairs Committee.
Overall, Nashua has about 40 emergency beds for single men at Southern New Hampshire Rescue Mission, as well as 10 family beds and an additional 20 single shelter beds — about half for men and half for women — operated by the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, according to Mack.
“It is actually pretty obvious we have a shortage of single female shelter beds in our community,” he said.
As winter approaches and the temperature is dropping, Mack acknowledged that it can be challenging to find warming stations for some of these individuals living on the streets.
Still, he stressed that some people do not want assistance when it is offered.
In those cases, Mack said more must be done to engage those individuals and get them the necessary resources.
“It is a challenge. We need to take a closer look at it,” he added.
This past September, the city’s welfare department distributed nearly $47,000 in assistance to welfare recipients. During the same month in 2018, about $37,500 was spent to help recipients with shelter, utilities, food, maintenance and more.
According to data provided to the committee, the welfare department assisted 13 families and nine individuals in emergency motel placements in September.
It also referred three families and three individuals to public shelters during the same time frame.
“Staff continues to work with the Greater Nashua Continuum of Care Coordinated Entry System, shelter and housing providers to connect clients to alternative shelter/housing,” Mack wrote in a letter to city leaders.
He said work is ongoing to refine the coordinated entry process that connects resources to the homeless and at-risk population. In addition, new efforts to coordinate outreach in the community are also being planned.
A public education session designed to educate the community about the city’s welfare process has been scheduled for 8 a.m. Dec. 4 at Nashua City Hall to help inform residents on how to access welfare assistance and other resources.
Currently, the city has spent about $117,579 of its general assistance funds, or about 22% of the general assistance budget for fiscal year 2020, Mack said.
Alderman Patricia Klee said it may be difficult for some people to pay a first and last month’s rent in order to secure an apartment.
“My only real concern is: How do people know how to get started?” said Klee. “ ... We have a great system, it is just getting it to work.”
With housing inventory so low and rents so high, Alderman-at-Large President Lori Wilshire asked how the local welfare department is dealing with the demand.
“Probably 90 some odd percent of the cases we see are prevention of homelessness, eviction prevention,” Mack said, which is when rental assistance or utility assistance can be beneficial.
The coordinated entry phone line for anyone seeking assistance is 844-800-9911.