Heated debate produces concrete outcomes for those experiencing homelessness
In 2016, the city of Lebanon, New Hampshire, proposed an ordinance to ban overnight camping on city-owned land. “The number of people camping on the property across from Hannaford on Route 12 had greatly increased, which was raising concerns,” explains Lynne Goodwin, Human Services Director for the city.
The ordinance sparked heated debate: proponents cited health and safety concerns; detractors saw the move as criminalizing poverty. Though the discourse was at times divisive, Lynne notes that it ultimately produced two important outcomes for those who were homeless. The first was the creation of a Housing Support Team, made up of professionals from the city, the Upper Valley Haven, LISTEN Community Services, UVGear (an organization that provides camping equipment and supplies to people in need), and the Tri-County Community Action Program. “We meet monthly to discuss individual clients—those who are homeless or about to become homeless,” Lynne notes. “It allows us to collaborate and strategize as a group on finding housing and keeping people housed. The Haven sends three staff members every month, which is fantastic. As a group, we’re able to create solutions right then and there.”
The second outcome was the formation of the Housing First Task Force, a broader group of community members, including clergy, legislators, and activists to look at macro-level ways to improve resources to address homelessness. The task force’s biggest success to date was the 2018 opening of Parkhurst Community Housing, a complex with 18 affordable units in Lebanon. Parkhurst prioritizes its units for those who meet the criteria for chronic homelessness (homeless for more than one year and have a disabling condition).
The Parkhurst project was developed and is managed by Twin Pines Housing; the Haven provides ongoing supportive case management. Renee Weeks, Director of Shelter & Clinical Services at the Haven remembers, “The opening of Parkhurst was tremendous. Eighteen guests from the Haven were able to secure permanent housing including some who had been camping in Lebanon.” Lynne Goodwin added, “The Housing First Task Force is now looking at opening another shelter in lower Grafton County, on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River.” The group also coordinates on the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count of people who are experiencing homelessness, conducted every January, as well as the Homeless Persons Candlelight Vigil, held on the winter solstice in December.
“The Haven has played—and continues to play—a critical role in both the Housing Support Team and the Housing First Task Force,” says Lynne. “Their leadership and their partnership on these efforts have been instrumental.”