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2021 annual homelessness report: N.H.'s unsheltered population has doubled since 2020

The main street in North Conway, with shops on one side and the mountains in the distance
Casey McDermott
In response to the pandemic, regions across the state increased homeless outreach services to connect those individuals with available services. Still, many emergency shelters remained at capacity and housing options were limited.

CONCORD, NH – The number of unhoused people in New Hampshire in 2021 remains about the same as in 2020 even though the number of unsheltered homeless people doubled, according to the annual report of the NH Coalition to End Homelessness.

The report, released Tuesday morning, indicates the increase in the unsheltered homeless occurred likely because of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two fiscal years. There were 4,682 individuals and people in families experiencing homelessness in the 2021 calendar year.

Between January and December 2021, Manchester recorded 1,714 homeless individuals, with 239 chronically homeless; Greater Nashua, 768, with 142 chronically homeless, and the remainder of the state, 2,556, with 568 chronically homeless.

Statewide, there were 667 homeless families; Greater Nashua had 229 homeless families, while Manchester counted 299 families among the homeless.

The state also recorded 3,109 homeless students with 725 in Manchester; 427 in Greater Nashua; and the remaining 1,995 spread across the state.

The number of unhoused people leveled out, in part, due to the 17 percent reduction in families who are homeless. Fewer families being homeless is likely the result of the $100 million in federal funding NH obtained through the American Rescue Plan Act and COVID-19 resources. Those monies were used to help prevent families from being evicted because they were behind in rent.

The 2021 NH Point-in-Time Count, where people on the last Wednesday in January literally fan out on the streets to count the homeless, identified 1,491 people, including children, who were homeless during a 24-hour timeframe. The report cautioned that, because of the pandemic, the 2021 count may be an under-representation of the unsheltered homeless population since New Hampshire requested partial HUD waivers to complete the counts to ensure COVID-19 precautions.

Those statistics were unveiled by Stephanie Savard, director of the NH Coalition to End Homelessness, who summarized the State of Homelessness in New Hampshire’s annual report for 2021 at a meeting of the Council on Housing Stability.

The homeless population increased by only 1 percent in fiscal year 2021 as compared to FY 2020, she said. However, the number of unsheltered homeless more than doubled. That increase, according to the report, represents the “extreme impact that COVID-19 had on the homeless.”

Emergency shelters had to put in pandemic safety measures, which reduced the number of beds available. With the housing vacancy rate remaining at less than 2 percent over the past three years, many people experiencing homelessness in 2021 “stayed in places not meant for human habitation as their only solution to survival,” according to the report.

Regions across the state, in response, increased homeless outreach services to connect those individuals with available services. Still, many emergency shelters remained at capacity and housing options were limited.

Family homelessness went down, Savard said, because of the significant amount of emergency housing rental assistance given out.

NH Housing Finance Authority, through Community Action Programs (Southern New Hampshire Services for the Manchester area) has helped 15,000 households by providing emergency rental assistance preventing homelessness.

Those funds are expected to be used up by the end of the year. What happens then?

“I think we’re all very nervous,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ve been stabilized and are able to right side their households to sustain where they are living. But what about the families that are behind and at risk of homelessness? With no money to back that up, we’re going to risk seeing those homeless numbers go back up.”

She said the emergency rental assistance program has been extremely successful and money still is available.

What is compounding the problem, she said, is the less than one percent vacancy rate. Someone being evicted has 30 days to get out. Legislation is being proposed to increase that to 60 days. But, Simard said, “finding someone housing within 60 days, the odds are less than zero. That’s where the worry lies.” She said giving a tenant 60 days is a way to “buy time.”

A further worry, she said, are rent hikes. People can’t afford to move and even if an apartment becomes available, it’s questionable whether they can afford it. “The population we’re talking about are at the lowest possible income level. They are not going to be able to afford these rents,” she said.

Rents are becoming so high that even the middle class is being squeezed out of the market so “we really have this downward push of folks who are going to be housing burdened or homeless,” Savard said.

The report also lists things that should be done to address the homeless problems. Those include the need to increase production of affordable housing; continue eviction prevention programs; improve the public’s perception about the causes of and effective solutions for homelessness; include voices of people who have experienced homelessness at every table addressing the issue across the state; increase state funding for NH emergency shelters; among others.

“We have learned that change can happen with an infusion of affordable housing, evidence-based practices, and a well-supported provider system to meet the unique needs of each population who experiences homelessness in New Hampshire,” Savard said.

The report also announced a current research study underway highlighting a partnership between NHCEH and the University of NH School of Social Work. The study is exploring the perceptions and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who currently, or formerly, experienced homelessness in a predominately White rural state. Results are anticipated to be released in 2022.

The 2021 annual report on homelessness in NH used data compiled from state and federal sources, including the Homeless Management Information System (collected in State Fiscal Year and Calendar Year 2021) and the State of New Hampshire Official Point-In-Time Count (conducted on January 23, 2021), providing an overview and understanding of the scope of homelessness both statewide and in each of the three HUD defined Continuum of Care regions of the state – Manchester, Greater Nashua and the rest of the state.

Learn more and download the full report here.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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