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Homeless in Carroll County?

Tri-County CAP can help

August 26, 2010
OSSIPEE — Carroll County has more homeless families than any other in Tri-County Community Action Program's coverage area, according to its Homeless Outreach Coordinator. And the problem is the worst in Conway.

The Tri-County Community Action Program (also known as Tri-CCAP) serves Carroll, Grafton, and Coös counties — a territory of nearly 5,000 square miles, said Homeless Outreach Coordinator Joie Finley Morris. Homelessness ranges from couch surfing at a non-relative's home to living in the woods in a structure that lacks electricity and plumbing.

"Carroll County doesn't have more homeless people; it has more large homeless families," said Finley Morris, who is based in Lebanon. "I don't know what's going on in Carroll County to attract such large families."

She defined large families as having more than four members. The types of families that come to Tri-CCAP are multi generational, said Finley Morris.

Tri-CCAP keeps track of the number of times it helps individuals and families without duplication. From July 2009 to June 2010 Homeless Outreach made 612 assists in Carroll County. That's a higher number than the totals for four out of the last five years. In 2005-2006, Homeless Outreach made 390 assists. Over the next two years it made 515 and 516 assists respectively. Then in 2008-2009, the number of people assisted shot up to 788.

In the two counties the numbers are rising. In Grafton County, Homeless Outreach made 1,144 assists from July 2009 to June 2010. That number has been increasing each year since 2005-2006 when Homeless Outreach made 682 assists in Grafton County. Coös County, Homeless Outreach made 394 assists in 2009 to 2010. In the previous four years the number of assists ranged between 256 and 319.

Much of Carroll County's homeless population is in Conway because that's where most of the jobs are located. Contrary to popular belief, many homeless people are employed — they tend to work in retail stores stocking shelves at night. They just cannot earn enough to get a place to live in this area where affordable housing is "non-existent," said Finley Morris. Other factors that cause homelessness include substance and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and job layoffs. Conway cases consume 46 percent the Homeless Outreach dollars allotted to Carroll County. That equates to $5,670. Wakefield cases consume the second largest amount with 25 percent. Tamworth consumes 14 percent and Ossipee takes nine percent.

Finley Morris met with the Carroll County Commission on Wednesday, Aug. 11 to discuss the issue of homelessness as it relates to the county. She told commissioners that studies have shown that about 50 percent of inmates who leave a jail without a housing plan would come back.

There have been a number of instances where homeless people with no place to go were released from the Carroll County House of Corrections. In February, House of Corrections Capt. Mike Fowler said dealing with homeless inmates is one of the jail's biggest challenges. At the time, the jail had to find shelter for three indigent inmates released over a two-week period.

Finley Morris suggests that the county jail should develop a discharge plan for all homeless inmates prior to their release. She urges the county to call Homeless Outreach immediately after a homeless person is incarcerated. Sometimes, Homeless Outreach isn't given much lead-time, she said. For instance, she once got a call from another county's jail at 3 p.m. about a homeless inmate who was to be released at 5 p.m.

"We need more time than that," said Finley Morris.

In addition, Finley Morris says there ought to be a halfway house system to reintroduce long incarcerated inmates to society.

Carroll County Jail Superintendent Jason Johnson said his staff contacts Tri-CCAP when they receive a homeless inmate.

Homeless people in Carroll County are in a bind because they can't get housing without a job and there are no jobs in this difficult economy, said Commissioner Dorothy Solomon. They survive by staying with relatives or even by camping in the woods.

"The needs are many and the resources are fewer," said Solomon adding that Carroll County doesn't have a homeless shelter.

Finley Morris agrees that the combination of low wages and high housing costs is the problem.

"The jobs don't pay enough to rent the apartments in Carroll County," said Finley Morris.

Homeless Outreach has tried matching homeless people with roommates, but the success rate is low because the people tend not to have anything in common besides homelessness. For example, one person may have a good work history while another doesn't, said Finley Morris.

It's also getting more difficult to find space for people at homeless shelters because they are almost always booked. Tri-CCAP operates a four-bedroom emergency shelter called the Tyler Blain House in Lancaster.

"Finding availability is impossible," said Finley Morris. "It's driving us nuts."

Homeless Outreach helps homeless people find the resources they need to get back on their feet. Those who find themselves homeless are encouraged to call immediately. Services include rental assistance, utility payments, motel vouchers, storage unit cost coverage, and loans for first month's rent.

"We help them figure out what to do," said Finley Morris. "In the worst case scenario we will help someone in Carroll County get shelter and that would be far away from the community they know as home."

If anyone knows of a homeless situation or needs assistance, they can call the New Hampshire Homeless Hotline at 1-800-852-3388.

In other county news:

— Commission chair David Sorensen said the wall at the jail that appears to be separating from the rest of the building is not in failure or dangerous. The separation is due to thermal expansion and contraction. County officials became concerned when they saw the outside wall of the administration wing was separating by about an inch. Commissioners decided to reopen the parking lot next to the wall because they are confident it won't fall over. Commissioners are now waiting for an independent engineer's report and information about how to reduce the wall's movement.

— The county will save about $4.3 million because it got a better than expected interest rate on the construction of the county's new $23.5 million nursing home, said Commissioner Chip Albee. The commission got an interest rate of 3.38 percent when they were expecting a rate of 3.8 percent. Now, the county will have to pay about $9 million in interest instead of about $12 million, said Albee. The interest is not included in the $23.5 million.

— The county commission has hired Cybertron, of Belmont, to provide the county with computer support services until the end of the year for a cost of $20,000. For an additional $12,000 it will be working on installing a time keeping system for county buildings and an electronic scheduling system at the new nursing home.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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