The latest Point-in-Time report on homelessness — an annual snapshot count overseen by the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services — showed a 9 percent drop in the state’s homeless population from 2015 to 2016.
But the Hundred Nights shelter in Keene saw no let up in the need.
In fact, at the cold-weather shelter on Lamson Street, the unusually mild winter was “the busiest season we ever had,” said Melinda L. “Mindy” Cambiar, Hundred Nights’ executive director.
And the need isn’t all that’s spiking for the nonprofit organization: Rent prices, liability insurance and staffing costs are also up. As a result, Cambiar said, so is Hundred Nights’ request for funding from the city. For next fiscal year, the winter shelter and year-round resource center is asking for $20,000 from the City Council, an increase of $4,500, or 29 percent, from the $15,500 in funding councilors approved for this year.
Cambiar said she didn’t want to ask for the increase.
“Honestly, I would have liked to ask for more but didn’t want to request a huge increase within a year … I know it was over 675 more bed nights of shelter we provided this season, compared to last season,” she said.
‘We don’t turn anybody away’
Rebecca Woodard, 55, a single mother of five who suffers from lupus, became homeless at the end of September and came to Hundred Nights at the end of February. But you wouldn’t have guessed a few years ago that this trouble was in her future. Woodard said she had once been a teacher, a kickboxer, and almost received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Woodard landed a job at Keene State College three months ago doing custodial work, but she hadn’t always been so lucky.
She ran into hard times, starting when she couldn’t afford putting her third child through college. She was living in Pelham with a job when she got fired and evicted from her home, for reasons she didn’t want mentioned.
Although she’s no longer homeless, not everybody’s so fortunate.
Last season Hundred Nights provided 3,007 bed nights — a per-person, per-night tally of the time people spent under its roof. This season, it was 3,894.
Even the overflow shelter was busier.
This year, although Hundred Nights had anticipated only 40 overnight stays at the overflow shelter at the United Church of Christ in Keene based on the numbers from last year’s season, the church shelter lodged people for 78 nights.
The influx of people began last summer when Hundred Nights’ shelter — named with the idea that it would run during the 100 coldest nights of the year — was “closed” for the season, but took in two pregnant women and their partners, according to Cambiar. One of the pregnancies was high-risk, and the couple was living in a tent.
Hundred Nights Board Chairman Timothy K. Peloquin, a Keene police officer, offered to give the couple a ride “home” one evening, Cambiar said. When they arrived at their tent, it was flooded.
“He felt so terrible that he brought them back here,” Cambiar said. “We don’t turn anybody away.”
The influx continued to escalate into the fall, when the guests were of an older, calmer demographic — people in their 50s, who had gotten sick, laid off from their jobs, or had run into a “life problem,” as Cambiar described it, which put them on the streets.
Richard “Rich” MacKay, 47, of Keene and his 5-year-old “son” Buster, a Rottweiler/pitbull mix, have been homeless for four years. He stays at the shelter at night and says his home is, “wherever I pitch a tent and don’t get evicted.”
A younger crowd flooded into Hundred Nights after Christmas. The 24- to 34-year-olds came and stayed throughout the season, according to Cambiar. She also said that recently the shelter’s been affected by the opioid epidemic — another problem in and of itself.
The emergency shelter season used to operate from Dec. 21 to March 31. That changed last season when it opened on Dec. 1, 2014, and closed on April 15, 2015. The shelter reopened on Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, 2015, and ran through April 15.
Costs rise for everyone
As Hundred Nights see more traffic, costs have gone up too. Among them is rent.
Timoleon “Lindy” Chakalos, who owns the building that houses Hundred Nights behind his Main Street restaurant, confirmed that he raised the rent; but he didn’t sound happy about it.
“It has gone up. Taxes are so damn high, it’s outrageous! But we talked and came to an agreement,” Chakalos said.
Liability insurance and the workers compensation insurance went up by about $1,200 for reasons Cambiar isn’t sure of. She knows that Hundred Nights had to switch companies because its carrier wouldn’t fund a nonprofit organization any longer.
Staff costs were also higher because Hundred Nights had budgeted off of last season’s number of night-stays but the number was so much higher than expected, it exceeded its budget by about $4,000.
Asking for more help
Despite Cambiar’s request for more money, $15,500 was recommended, along with funding for several other social service agencies, in the budget City Manager Medard K. Kopczynski recently released for the City Council’s consideration.
Hundred Nights’ funding requests have proven controversial before.
In the 2013-14 fiscal year, Hundred Nights’ funding from the city was $11,000; the following year, it was raised to its current $15,500 after the council narrowly approved extra funding to several social service agencies.
Councilor Randy L. Filiault was vocal in his opposition to giving Hundred Nights more money, contending shelter officials had told the City Council it would be self-sufficient and not ask for any additional funding after opening. Filiault also said he thought more people from outside Keene use the shelter than Keene residents.
Councilor Mitchell H. Greenwald has also expressed concern in the past about whether money from the city is being spent on Keene residents versus people who use the related Open Doors resource center.
Of Hundred Nights latest funding request Greenwald said, “My personal thought is that they need to stick with their budget. ... I’m not favorable to the additional funding.”
Greenwald said he appreciates Cambiar and the facility, but thinks they need to relocate to a larger one.
“They are doing a super job ... but (the large population of homeless people) is causing damage to downtown and their businesses,” said Greenwald, whose own business, Greenwald Realty, is on Main Street.
He also expressed concerns about the number of people who sit and stand in the alley outside Hundred Nights.
“It’s a drop-in center so all day long it’s a place for individuals with nothing to do to hang out,” Greenwald said. “It’s like a magnet.”
She’s from Munsonville, and said that since there’s no store there, she comes here. She thinks everybody else who lives in small, surrounding towns comes to Keene too.
“Keene is not just a hub for social services, it’s a hub for everything,” she said.
The money Hundred Nights receives from the city is about 10 percent of its overall budget. The shelter receives $50,000 from United Way, as well as money from fundraisers and donations.
Although Cambiar would like to receive the $4,500 in extra funding, she said she doesn’t think it would make a significant impact.
“There needs to be more affordable housing, there needs to be more low-income housing, more transitional housing; there’s just not enough of it,” she said. “There’s no blame here.”
Cambiar says she relates to Keene residents not wanting taxes to go up, but feels people should look at the bigger picture.
“The bottom line is if somebody’s in this community, whether they are here and have been released from jail, whether they come here to live with a boyfriend or girlfriend — and perhaps they haven’t actually paid rent on their own in the town before because they are now living with somebody else who’s here — if you’re living in a tent here every summer for the past three years and in the shelter every winter … Do we want people to be warm and safe or really cold and with no place to go?”