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With move, MPS to offer new housing option to people in crisis

Monadnock Peer Support will move to a larger location by the end of the year, with plans to expand its programming and offer longer-term temporary housing.

The latter will give people experiencing a mental health crisis a place outside of a psychiatric hospital to live in for up to a few months.

The Keene nonprofit agency, currently on Beaver Street, announced Friday it will purchase the former Woodward assisted living facility at 194-202 Court St. The Woodward merged with Prospect Place in 2016, and the new entity opened Hillside Village on Wyman Road in 2019.

The agency’s board of directors gave Monadnock Peer Support the go-ahead last month to make an offer on the building, according to Executive Director Peter Starkey.

“As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we wanted to position ourselves for the next 25 years,” he said. “Going into this property really allows us to have that opportunity.”

Nationally, one in five people — or 46.6 million — experience mental health issues, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Monadnock Peer Support is a member-run agency that offers free peer support groups, one-on-one peer support, a youth peer support program and a 24/7 peer crisis respite program for people with conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or trauma-related disorders.

Monadnock Peer Support helps 350 Granite Staters annually, according to Starkey.

The Court Street facility will more than triple the agency’s space, he said, and provide opportunities to create new programs and more accessibility for community members with its more central location.

Specifically, Monadnock Peer Support wants to widen its peer respite program.

The free, voluntary program is an alternative to going to a psychiatric hospital for those 18 and older in the midst of a mental health crisis. It is the only program of its kind in the Monadnock Region, Starkey said, and houses two beds.

New Hampshire residents leaving a psychiatric hospital are also able to stay in the program to help ease their transition back into the community.

Program participants have 24/7 access to a peer support worker, and can stay in the facility for up to six nights. They are able to come and go as they please, whether it be to report to work or see friends.

“The idea is people in crisis are capable and aware of what they need oftentimes, but are not given the chance to do that,” said Doug Robertson, the agency’s respite director, “so we aim to avoid coercion and restrictive and clinical-based thinking that’s focused on the diagnosis.”

In fiscal year 2019, 100 percent of people were able to avoid hospitalization in the six months after they stayed in the respite program, and that remained true after one year for 94 percent of them, according to Starkey.

One of its success stories is Jude Grophear, the agency’s wellness program director, who has stayed in respite care.

“It was something that gave me the opportunity to still go to work, but also deal with some really big traumatic stuff that was going on in my life,” she said. “It just gave me the opportunity to step away from home, have support and clear my head ... It was just something that I really, really needed.”

Once settled into the new facility, Starkey said the plan is to create a longer-term respite program, in addition to the current one.

The new program will have three beds that people can use for up to two or three months as they return from, or avoid, hospitalization.

The addition of more beds will help New Hampshire residents, while also saving the state money, according to Starkey.

“A stay in respite, at cost, is probably a little under $1,000 for the week, and the average stay at a New Hampshire hospital of three to four weeks can push upwards of $100,000,” he said. “Of the 35 people we usually serve in [the respite program] a year, that’s millions that isn’t being billed.”

The agency is in the “final stages” of acquiring funding for the new program, Starkey said.

As for the new location, he said Monadnock Peer Support plans to move between November and December. There are a few routine maintenance and cosmetic issues that need to be addressed before the agency reopens its doors to the public, which it hopes to do at the end of January.

Until then, Starkey said, Monadnock Peer Support will continue offering the online programs it started during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information, visit the agency’s website at monadnockpsa.org.

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As weather cools, area eateries weigh the cost-benefit of plexiglass barriers

As the cooler weather sets in, restaurants will be forced to eliminate their outdoor dining options, which has been one of the key ways they have navigated the strict guidelines put forth by the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The addition of outdoor seating has allowed many restaurants to make up in some small way for the decrease in their indoor seating allowance due to the restrictions to keep parties six feet away from each other.

But as the end of the outdoor dining season approaches, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that restaurants would be allowed to move tables closer together if they install barriers between them.

“We’ve seen this model be enacted in other places around the New England region and across the country very successfully,” Sununu said during his announcement, which took effect Oct. 1.

The easing of the indoor dining restrictions comes at a time when owners were starting to worry about what the colder months would look like under the six-foot distancing guidelines. But it does come with another expense for restaurants, many of which are struggling to survive the loss of revenue.

Harris Welden, owner of Pearl Restaurant and Bantam Grill, both located in the Monadnock Community Plaza in Peterborough, said recently he plans to install barriers in both restaurants. Welden said he doesn’t want to just put up plexiglass between tables so had been searching the likes of Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for things like old chalkboards or maps typically found in school classrooms or old doors. The plan is to have the barriers be both aesthetically pleasing and on wheels, so he can move them around quickly for different table sizes.

Pearl has a small dining room, and to accommodate parties of four to six, the restaurant will have to move tables around. That won’t be as easily done if the barriers are fixed.

Welden said so far the outdoor dining option has been popular and that the restaurant invested in heaters, but knows that his opportunity to seat people outside is growing shorter with each passing day.

“It depends on the weather. Right now it’s nice, but last week there was frost in the morning,” Welden said.

He said with the installation of barriers he will likely reach 80 percent capacity at Pearl and somewhere between 85 and 90 percent at Bantam. He’d like to be operating at 100 percent, but knows that just isn’t possible right now.

“You’ve got to be responsible,” Welden said. “Because everyone has a different comfort level.”

But it will come at a significant cost, and one that won’t do him much good when COVID-19 is a thing of the past.

“It’s going to be pretty substantial if we’re going to make it nice,” Welden said. “But then it’s a question of how much of an investment do you want to put into it? Because who knows how long this is going to go on for.”

It’s a balancing act, considering that business has been essentially cut in half for the year, and there’s no way of knowing if takeout will pick back up once the outdoor dining season is over.

And right, now the ability to look back at trends for the previous 10 years at Pearl and eight at Bantam is all but gone.

“Now, all that data is out the window,” Welden said. “We’re trying to figure it out, but everything seems a little bit harder.”

While Matt Cabana, owner of the Birchwood Inn, Restaurant and Tavern in Temple, appreciates the steps that are being taken to help restaurants like his navigate the ever changing coronavirus landscape, he isn’t sure putting up barriers will change people’s perception about indoor dining.

“You can have all those barriers, but it comes down to the comfort level of the consumers coming in,” Cabana said. “There are just certain people who won’t go into restaurants.”

Of course, Cabana wants to offer more inside dining, currently doing so at half capacity, because “restaurants need to be operating at 100 percent to be profitable,” but questions whether the customers will be there. And considering the cost it would incur, Cabana doesn’t feel as though it’s a worthwhile investment.

“I don’t know if barriers are going to make that much of a difference in our situation,” Cabana said.

He was one of the lucky restaurant owners who had the outdoor space to expand offerings into the fresh air, and it has gone so well he expects to keep it as part of the business model moving forward. Cabana was also fortunate that Ben Fisk of Ben’s Sugar Shack lent him a 20-foot-by-40-foot tent that will be warmed with heaters to compensate for the necessary opening for proper ventilation.

“That’s going to take us into November,” Cabana said.

When it is too cold to eat outdoors, Cabana expects the restaurant will keep the indoor dining configuration that allows for social distancing and hopes that takeout interest will pick back up like it did early on in the shutdown of restaurants. He also plans to offer prepared meals.

“You have to get creative,” he said. “You have to try and be innovative.”

Barry York, owner of Brady’s American Grill in Peterborough, said he’d thought about adding barriers after Sununu’s announcement, but wasn’t ready to commit to anything just yet.

“I’m wondering if it’s even worth it,” York said.

With a very large dining room, York said it would be a costly investment, both in materials and for someone to install the barriers between booths. York said currently Brady’s is seating parties at every other table, which still allows for a fair amount of people to be eating indoors with a capacity of 150. He also added an outdoor dining area in the plaza parking lot, which York said has gone quite well and will be open through the end of October. But come November, his thinking may change.

“When that ends Oct. 31, then I might be buying some plexiglass,” York said.

York said he is luckier than the other restaurants in town merely because of the size of his restaurant.

“I can live with (6 feet between tables) because I’m so big,” he said.

Ronnie Roberts said recently that he hadn’t made a decision about the possibility of installing barriers at his family’s restaurant, Parker’s Maple Barn, in Mason. The cost is definitely a factor.

“As far as I can tell, it’s not going to be an expense we can bear right now,” Roberts said.

When outdoor dining was allowed, Roberts said the restaurant added tables that could comfortably seat 34 people with the appropriate social distancing and it has gone so well that it is a model Parker’s Maple Barn plans to keep. Roberts said the restaurant invested in heaters for the outdoor space, which will allow it to extend the season this fall and open up the tables in early spring.

“Its definitely helped us,” Roberts said. “We’re looking at the long-term.”

Trump makes $1.8 trillion economic relief offer

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made an over $1.8 trillion offer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Friday in a renewed search for an economic relief deal, but agreement remained elusive as Pelosi said her terms still weren’t met.

“Of special concern, is the absence of an agreement on a strategic plan to crush the virus,” Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, said on Twitter after Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke for 30 minutes Friday afternoon. “For this and other provisions, we are still awaiting language from the administration as negotiations on the overall funding amount continue.”

The negotiations took place just three days after President Donald Trump declared talks over. He’s now reversed himself completely and is urgently seeking a deal with weeks to go before the election — even though some congressional Republicans appear far less enthused over the prospect of a massive new spending bill.

“Covid Relief Negotiations are moving along. Go Big!” Trump said on Twitter Friday. Later in the day, speaking on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, Trump said, “I would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering.”

White House communications director Alyssa Farah contradicted that assertion, however, saying that the White House wanted to keep the final tally “below $2 trillion.” Democrats have been seeking a $2.2 trillion bill.

The new $1.8 trillion offer is an increase from the White House’s most recent proposal of around $1.6 trillion, which Pelosi had dismissed as too meager. Among the changes: The new offer proposes $300 billion for cities and states, up from $250 billion in the earlier proposal; it maintains a $400 weekly enhanced unemployment insurance benefit from the previous version, but for a somewhat longer duration, according to a person familiar with the contents who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss them.

The White House’s offer on stimulus checks includes $1,000 per child, instead of the $500 per child provided in the original Cares Act approved in March, according to two people with knowledge of the plan. The increase in the payment to children appears to be intended as a compromise measure for rejecting tax credits for children pushed by Pelosi in negotiations.

The figure for states and cities, first reported by Politico, is still significantly lower than Democrats had been seeking. That issue has been a long-running point of contention between the two sides, with Republicans claiming Democrats are trying to “bail out” blue states, a claim that angers Democrats, especially since many Republican governors also are seeking additional federal aid. Roughly $400 billion of the spending would come from money that had already been approved by Congress and would be repurposed, an administration official said, so that the net cost of the bill would be closer to $1.5 trillion.

Trump’s sudden desire for a huge spending bill does not match the mood from many Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have been cooler to the idea of a big package less than four weeks before the November elections. It comes, though, amid signs the U.S. economy is hitting a rough patch several months into a partial recovery. A number of companies in the past few weeks have begun layoffs and furloughs, particularly in the travel industry. Other sectors are also showing signs of strain. Some Republicans, particularly those in tight reelection races, do appear supportive of some sort of new aid. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is in a tight reelection race, wrote on Twitter that she had spoken to Trump and urged him to provide more economic relief.

“The biggest thing that we need to see in a bill that, frankly, needs to get through quickly, is an extension of the application period for the PPP program, because that’s so essential for small businesses,” Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said at a Washington Post Live event on Friday. Without certainty of more aid, he warned businesses might “have to make horrific decisions to lay off parts of their workforce.”

Pelosi had been pushing legislation around $2.2 trillion in the talks with Mnuchin before Trump abruptly pulled the plug on negotiations Tuesday. Trump reversed course several hours later, though, after the stock market sunk and some in his own party objected. Trump has since been convinced by some political allies that a stimulus package would be helpful for his reelection, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of internal conversations.

“Because it is so necessary to meet the needs of the American people I do hope that we will have an agreement soon,” Pelosi said on MSNBC Friday ahead of her conversation with Mnuchin.

As the coronavirus pandemic intensified in March and April, Congress approved $3 trillion in new spending to try to arrest some of the economic fallout. They have struggled since then to approve another package, though, amid new signs that parts of the economy are weakening.

But with Trump down in the polls a month from Election Day, he is suddenly pushing aggressively for a big new package, in a turnaround almost as abrupt as when he suddenly announced the cancellation of talks on Tuesday.

“He got a terrible backlash from it, including in the stock market, which is what he cares about,” Pelosi said on MSNBC. “And so then he started to come back little by little, and now a bigger package. So we’ll see what they have to offer.”

Many Republicans are skeptical Pelosi would actually agree to a deal that would give Trump something to brag about heading into the election. And there was no guarantee that any deal struck between Pelosi and Mnuchin would pass muster with Senate Republicans.

Senate GOP leaders have said any bill larger than $1 trillion would be difficult for many Senate Republicans to accept, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could be reluctant to put legislation on the floor that would divide his conference — especially as he tries to focus on confirming a new Supreme Court justice ahead of the election. In a provision that could further alienate some conservatives, the White House proposal would allow certain unauthorized immigrants to get stimulus checks.

At an event earlier Friday in Kentucky, McConnell threw cold water on prospects for legislation to pass, saying it was “unlikely in the next three weeks.” A Republican strategist close to McConnell’s office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal GOP thinking, said that there was substantial opposition to the deal both within the administration and among congressional Republicans, predicting that a package of around $2 trillion would receive the support of “maybe 10” Senate Republicans.

Moderates in both parties, especially some in tough reelection races, have been advocating for a new relief deal. But in the GOP these lawmakers are outnumbered by conservatives who are expected to push against the deal.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., who attended several events with McConnell in Kentucky on Friday, said that despite their support for the president, “a lot of conservatives are concerned about excessive spending.”

“Until we get liability protection and spending under control I don’t think a lot of conservatives will be real excited to vote for another stimulus package,” Comer said in an interview.

“I’m doubtful in the end something gets done in a big, big way. You’ve got to remember there are a lot of senators on the Republican side of the aisle who are not in cycle and one of the most damaging votes they could take is to spend another couple trillion dollars spent in a relief bill,” former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who lost his seat to a conservative insurgent in 2014, said in an interview on Fox Business. “There are some Republicans who still believe we have to deal with the increasing debt and deficit of this country.”

In addition to money for cities and states and unemployment insurance, the new proposal includes aid for airlines and small businesses and a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks. Both sides have supported these policies. They also had appeared to settle on $75 billion for coronavirus testing and tracing, although Democrats continued to push the administration for language on a comprehensive testing strategy, something Pelosi said Friday remained unsettled.

The new $1.8 trillion offer is the latest twist in a chaotic chain of events over the past week. From the hospital on Saturday, Trump wrote on Twitter that Congress should pursue a giant stimulus bill.

On Tuesday, he called talks off, saying he instead wanted to focus on having the Senate confirm a new Supreme Court justice. That statement, made in a series of Twitter posts, sent the stock market down sharply.

Later Tuesday, he called for $1,200 stimulus checks, airline aid, and small business assistance. Wednesday, Pelosi and Mnuchin began negotiating an airline aid bill, only to have Pelosi say that airline assistance could only come as part of a broader package.

On Thursday, the White House sent mixed signals, with Mnuchin pursuing a broader deal with Pelosi and other White House officials saying they were only interested in a piecemeal approach.