The mayors of New Hampshire’s 13 cities have written a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu, asking for state support to address homelessness.
In the letter, the mayors focused on how COVID-19 has affected homelessness services in their cities, and shared concerns about unhoused people as winter approaches.
“We have worked to increase sheltering options, including opening up additional facilities, but despite safety measures, many individuals experiencing homelessness still do not feel safe staying in shelters,” the group wrote.
The mayors said they’re developing a sheltering plan for winter, but because of a lack of funding and emergency beds, they’re relying on faith-based communities to help respond to the crisis.
Keene Mayor George Hansel said his city provides all the homeless services for southwestern New Hampshire. He said more needs to be done to provide supports for people before they become homeless, and that requires working with the state.
“Cities and towns, we just can't do it by ourselves," he said. "Unless there’s a coordinated effort, there won’t be great outcomes for homeless people."
The mayors are asking for a new statewide plan that would focus on increasing transitional and affordable housing, as well as wider access to mental health and substance use treatment.
Hansel said he’d like to see a “coordinated access point” for people experiencing homelessness.
“In a similar way where you have one point of entry to get into the system and get referred to the right services in the right location for that person or that case, and we don’t have that for homelessness right now,” he said.
The last statewide homelessness plan was completed in 2006.
At a press conference Thursday, Sununu pushed back on the mayor's letter, saying the state has already provided millions of dollars in funding to cities during the pandemic, but said state lawmakers will likely take the issue on.
"I think this is something that the Legislature can take up in a variety of different ways, and so we’ll lean on them a little bit. They're the best tool to create things that are long-term, lasting and permanent,” he said.