The year 2020 has been a historic year, a catastrophic global pandemic is raging and wreaking havoc by causing unprecedented loss of life and economic damage. The health impacts of the current pandemic disproportionately affect elderly and minority communities while the economic costs of the public health measures necessary to fight the pandemic continue to increase. State and non-profit social services that individuals rely on in times of crisis were already stressed prior to 2020. COVID has pushed too many of our most vulnerable neighbors from barely making it to a crisis.
The isolation and economic stress of COVID shutdowns have led directly to increased incidence of depression, substance abuse disorders, and domestic abuse. People with young children or pre-existing mental health issues were already over-represented among those at risk for homelessness. Community volunteers and non-profits have struggled and failed to meet the huge demand for support during this time. The effects of this shortfall are long term.
Federal spending such as the additional $600 per week in unemployment and on-time dispersal of $1200 has provided some relief to families in crisis. Continue providing temporary relief to households facing eviction during the pandemic.
Homelessness is at a critical state, not local to one community but many. A crisis that has to be addressed at a state level in partnership with the local communities in counties, cities, and towns.
With winter fast approaching, there is a need to act quickly. We can look at homelessness at three levels
- Primary – living on the streets, unlawfully occupying an uninhabited building, or settled on a piece of land.
- Secondary- living in improvised dwellings or using cars for temporary shelter
- Tertiary – couch surfing or living in crowded homes with friends and relatives.
To address the immediate problem of providing shelter for people living on the streets, we must augment current shelters with additional space. Let us look at one such opportunity in Nashua. There is a vacant campus (former Daniel Webster College campus) with dormitories and a commercial kitchen. This could be considered to provide temporary shelter to tide over the winter months.
For those in the secondary category and tertiary category, there are some community projects underway such as the effort by The Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter which is in the process of renovating and converting a building into a shelter. This project can be accelerated with additional financial support.
Longer-term sustainable solutions should address the root cause of precarity alongside a Housing First policy where folks are provided a stable living environment. Integrated community resource centers can provide a place to spend time or get support in entering treatment and training programs. Many successful versions of these programs already exist in New Hampshire. They need more funding. An integrated community of care model will help build resiliency one family at a time.
Looking beyond the pandemic, we need to be thinking about innovative and cost-effective solutions to keep the fabric of our community intact and build strong resilient communities. Holistic approaches that include the use of Alternative Integrative Medicine, an initiative that aims to address mental health, opioid addiction, drug-free pain management strategies, and substance abuse illness should be considered. A unique emerging model of care delivery that Integrates Yoga and Yoga Therapy with traditional and conventional psychiatric care in the management of mental health and opioid addiction and stress management should also be considered.
With these strategies, the goal of managing the current destabilization first providing housing for the three groups of homeless populations, and the longer-term goal of building strong and resilient communities can be achieved.
Latha Mangipudi is a fifth-term State Representative from Nashua, New Hampshire. She serves on the Federal Relations and Veteran’s Affairs Committee in the House.