Something I often hear people lament is their inability to make a meaningful difference. Indeed, sometimes our problems can feel so overwhelming, large, and intractable that it’s hard to know where one can even begin. This month I’d like to give a few simple ideas about how to make a difference in Greater Nashua when it comes to one of our most vexing of problems, namely homelessness.
For the public which isn’t involved in the daily issues of fighting homelessness, this coming Wednesday could be a day like any other. However, for many of those agencies which are engaged in this work, and for the homeless population itself, January 24th is a big deal! On this day the Greater Nashua Continuum of Care is hosting it’s annual “Project Homeless Connect” event, which will take place at Harbor Homes offices at 45 High Street from 11 to 2:30 PM. This event is essentially a resource fair for the homeless. Numerous agencies and organizations which provide assistance and make it possible for homeless individuals to ultimately break out of this cycle will be on hand to provide information to the homeless about their services. This includes information about housing, employment, social services, and education. There will even be several hair stylists on site to provide free haircuts and a free community lunch will be served. How can you help? The answer is very easy – if you know somebody who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, tell them about this event! If you are more interested about what resources are out there in our community so that you yourself can get involved as a volunteer or an advocate, then you can also feel free to come to the event and learn more.
How is it that an event like this comes to be? There is an organization which has been functioning in Greater Nashua for many years now called the Continuum of Care (CoC) which is sponsoring Homeless Connect. Each month, on the first Wednesday of the month, a group of over 30 different agency and community representatives meet in the Nashua City Hall Auditorium at 8 AM to discuss, plan, coordinate, and implement strategies to reduce homelessness. The group is responsible for the Homeless Connect and Employment Connect events, as well as the Federal HUD grant funding, running the “coordinated entry” hotline to assist the homeless, and annually doing the point-in-time homeless count. We have the privilege of participating in these meetings and I am always impressed not only by the amount of resources, but the cooperation between different agencies to solve these difficult problems. The meetings are always open to the public and input is welcomed. Because of the CoC’s work, over the past 5 years homelessness had been reduced in our community, as measured by HUD definitions, by about 20%. That said, there is still much work to do, including focusing on the youth homelessness problem, which is typically dramatically under-reported since much of it consists of couch surfing instead of more traditional manifestations like living in a shelter or outside. How can you help? Check out the CoC at www.nashua-coc.org and come to one of their meetings. Listen to the conversation and ask how you can be part of the solution.
A final area I wanted to highlight on the problem of homelessness to get involved with is the youth homelessness subcommittee of the CoC. This subcommittee is looking at progressive solutions to youth homelessness which could, in our community, include a “host homes” program. This type of program has been successfully implemented in other parts of the country and could tap into some of the latent housing capacity in our community without significant dollar investment, so it is very promising. I’m quite certain that anybody interested in being part of this program, its’ planning and implementation — the goal of which is to keep kids in school through graduation to improve their prospects at having a productive life — would find their willingness to help out is warmly welcomed.
As you can see, there are any number of ways in which a person can get involved in helping to stop homelessness in our community. All it takes is a willingness to step up and pitch in, and hopefully I’ve given you a few simple ideas this month that can make a BIG DIFFERENCE, because great things can really happen when we LIVE UNITED. Wishing you a Happy New Year and an amazing 2018.
Mike Apfelberg is President of the United Way of Greater Nashua.