After Its Busiest Winter Yet, Keene Homeless Shelter Seeks Bigger Space

Apr 20, 2017

Hundred Nights shelter in Keene

A recent count of New Hampshire’s homeless population found it's on the decline, but that’s not the case everywhere in the state.

That overall state drop – reported by the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness – was felt in every county of the state, except for one: Cheshire County.

Hundred Nights is a 26-bed shelter in Keene, where officials say they saw unprecedented demand this past winter season.

Now, the shelter is looking for a bigger location.

(The Keene Sentinel reports some neighbors are concerned about the new location).

Mindy Cambiar, executive director of Hundred Nights, spoke to NHPR’s Morning Edition.

What can you tell us in terms of the need you're seeing in the community? 

Last season, the 15-16 season, we had numbers that got up into the mid-30s; 38 was our highest number. That was in addition to the one or two families who would come in for a night or two while they were waiting to get into the family shelter. Last year, the family shelter was so full consistently that we had two families – one with two teenage boys and one with two little girls – who were here with us for between seven and nine weeks each, which was pretty shocking to me. It encouraged a local church, the United Church of Christ, to offer up its dining room as an overflow site for the shelter.

Are you seeing more families like that and the need for longer term help?

This year has been crazy, this year that just ended this week.

So they’re not just staying for a night or two, you’re talking about long-term needs?

Right, so this year we’ve had eight families with 15 children between them. And they’ve all been here for weeks.

Why do you think that is?

I think that there’s a serious lack of affordable housing. The families in particular are mostly young families with young children. It hasn’t been teenagers this year; all the children have been under age 13. And the parents are either working at a job that doesn’t pay very much or they lost employment and that’s how they lost their previous housing.

Even with an overflow site, we just don't have space for the families to be families. So they're mixed up with other people.

  How does this kind of surge you’re seeing impact the organization?

It’s difficult in many ways because what’s happened is even with an overflow site, we just don’t have space for the families to be families. So they’re mixed up with other people. And we have a population of homeless that includes people who have some kind of mental illness that is perhaps untreated. We have some people who are definitely just released from jail because of one thing or another. Drugs have been huge. We’ve had a lot of alcoholics this year who were drinking actively and coming in. We can’t not take everybody in because that was our mission, so we’ve been trying to juggle. So what was the women’s room with eight bunks became divided into two rooms for two families with a floor to ceiling wall divider. Basically we came up with a new strategic plan that included looking for a bigger location.

In looking for a new home, where do things stand with that?

There’s one building in particular we’ve been focused on. It’s a 12,000 square foot building on two floors. What ended up happening is we got a purchase and sale agreement on the building. We also wrote a tax credit proposal to the Community Development Finance Authority asking for enough money to purchase the building and start the renovation process. And then I also needed to go to the city of Keene to apply for a zoning variance because the building is in the central business district. If we get the variance, then we move forward. We’ve had a site visit already from the CDFA for the tax credit proposal. They make a decision near the end of June about who they’re going to offer the tax credits to.

How many beds would you be up to then?

We’re hoping for somewhere between 40 and 50 beds approved by the fire department.

What’s you’re feeling for how it’s going to turn out? Have you been getting a good response from people in the community?

We’ve had a very supportive response from the general public in the community. I think people do understand that we are completely cramped for space here.