Op-ed: The Urgent Need to Address Homelessness

By Donovan Fenton

March 28, 2024

Homelessness and housing insecurity are things we think can never happen to us. The reality, however, is any one of us can lose what we believe is a safe place to rest our heads. We might suddenly find ourselves financially devastated by an unexpected medical diagnosis, the elimination of what was thought to be a secure job, or the sudden loss of an affordable apartment.

My mother experienced homelessness as a child. When she was little, the family was evicted from their apartment because they couldn’t pay the rent. Her family ended up sleeping in a borrowed car on the side of Route 91 – her parents in the front seat and she and her siblings in the back. They eventually ended up sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment. There was no “safety net” then to help them. Many people today share a similar story. It is tragically all too easy to become housing insecure, and the impacts of being homeless can be compounding and devastating.

Many outstanding programs and non-profit organizations in our state are working to combat New Hampshire’s homelessness crisis. Their efforts are showing positive outcomes, and they are making incredible strides in addressing the needs of those in crisis. Unfortunately, homelessness in New Hampshire continues to grow, and our non-profit organizations cannot solve this problem on their own.

I am pleased that the legislation I introduced earlier this session, SB406, is now moving forward through the Senate to provide needed funds for our homeless shelters throughout the state. As it currently stands, the bill will provide $2.5 million in assistance to shelters across the state. These facilities are facing tremendous strain, and the funding in SB 406 will ensure that they can stay open, providing needed beds for those facing homelessness. While it is clear we must continue to support efforts that serve our unhoused community members, we cannot continue to be exclusively reactionary to this crisis; we must also be proactive.

Addressing this issue after an individual has already become unhoused will not help solve the root cause of our homelessness crisis. We must also take an upstream approach to alleviate the pressure on our homeless shelters by helping prevent people from losing their housing. One approach would be to provide funds directly to local Community Action Programs, allowing them to tailor assistance to the needs of a person or family with an individualized services plan, helping individuals and families to work towards permanent housing solutions and maximum self-sufficiency.

Homelessness is a statewide issue that must be addressed holistically through multiple approaches. Statewide investments and programs need to be supported and developed while also recognizing that those efforts must focus on our residents’ and communities’ immediate and long-term needs.

I am grateful to my Senate colleagues for working with me through SB 406 to support our homeless shelters. These funds are desperately needed and will make a significant impact, but again, this will not alone solve our homelessness crisis. These funds will provide immediate relief, but they will not create more beds, address how people become unhoused, or provide support for our local communities. We must be more proactive with our public policy agenda if we genuinely want to address this crisis.

I am confident we can solve this crisis together with intentional efforts supporting our shelters, creating impactful and efficient social support programs, and building upon the Granite State spirit of tenaciousness. Our communities and many friends and neighbors have been directly affected by New Hampshire’s growing homeless crisis. Sadly, homelessness can happen to any of us. We must address this problem in its entirety, not simply the symptom. We will unquestionably all be better off when New Hampshire is a state where everyone has a safe place to rest their heads, and together we can do just that.

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