Eight mayors exhort Sununu to be more involved in addressing homelessness

Jan. 3—Eight New Hampshire mayors, including those in Manchester and Nashua, are calling on Gov. Chris Sununu to become more involved in efforts to shelter homeless people in the state.

In a letter dated Jan. 3, the mayors said they want the state to increase funding for shelter beds, provide respite care beds for homeless people discharged from hospitals and consider activating the National Guard to staff shelters.

The letter comes after 10 days of tumult in Manchester over homelessness. Two homeless people have died while living in homeless encampments, a homeless woman gave birth in a tent, and a brawl took place at the encampment outside the Families in Transition shelter.

A similar letter was sent two years ago by 13 mayors. The mayors of Concord, Lebanon, Portsmouth, Keene and Rochester did not sign on to Tuesday's letter.

The letter faults Sununu on several points. It states he would not meet with mayors to discuss the loss of emergency rental assistance and has not improved collaboration with cities following the November 2020 letter.

"Municipal leaders are working to provide support to every Granite Stater experiencing homelessness in our cities," the letter concludes, "but the State and County governments need to share a common commitment to ending homelessness statewide."

An unsigned statement from the governor's office said the state has made unprecedented investments in addressing homelessness. The statement said the tone and "misleading content" of the mayors' letter is disappointing.

The statement said Manchester devoted little of its $43 million American Rescue Plan funds to address homelessness, yet the city is spending $2 million in the federal funds for a branding strategy.

"The unprecedented request to call in the National Guard when federal funding hasn't been spent by many of the municipalities who signed this letter is impossible," the statement read.

The mayors' letter also was addressed to recently named Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Weaver and Associate Commissioner Christine Santaniello. According to the letter:

The state recently boosted an $8-per-person-per-day payment it makes to emergency shelters but did not include a requirement to increase the number of beds. The actual cost to operate a shelter is $45 per person per day. "This winter, unless the state increases the number of emergency shelter beds, individuals will be forced to live outside and risk death," the mayors wrote.

The 138-bed Families in Transition shelter in Manchester has only 38 beds for women and has turned away women on several occasions. Manchester city officials want the state to approve use of the state-owned Tirrell House at 15 Brook St., Manchester, for a women's shelter. The house, a 14-bed men's transitional shelter, has been closed since November and is heated and vacant. The city of Manchester, nonprofits and faith-based organizations will provide funding and services for the facility.

Respite medical care beds would provide better care for people released from hospitals into shelters and even unsheltered homelessness. The mayors said that 67 people have been released from hospitals and psychiatric facilities into the Manchester Families in Transition shelter in the past six months. Such people do not receive the care they need and experience significantly worse outcomes. Catholic Medical Center, which operates the state's only health care program for homeless people, could offer expertise in establishing a program. New Hampshire is one of only a dozen states without such a program.

Additional shelters are needed for homeless youth. Nashua only has a drop-in center for youth that offers no shelter or transitional housing. The Waypoint youth shelter in Manchester was full four nights after it opened.

The mayors called for transparent access to statewide information about homelessness. Very little information is provided about funds that nonprofit organizations receive from the state, something all mayors asked for in 2020.

The governor's office said the state spent $100 million on affordable housing in 2022. In December, it devoted $20 million for emergency spending on families in crisis. And it devoted $4 million for health care for homeless people.

Traditionally, the state funds 700 emergency shelter and 182 transitional shelter beds. Another 250 are paid for through other sources, the office said. The office said three continuum-of-care programs — for Manchester, Nashua and the remainder of the state — are responsible for planning, data collection and decision making to address homelessness.

The mayors said they have seen no statewide plan about a winter surge when all shelters are full, no information about 10 county-based warming stations and nothing about outcomes of state programs to move people from homelessness to permanent housing.

"The State of New Hampshire spends millions of taxpayer dollars on these services, and this information is critical for cities and towns to determine the success of State-funded programs," the letter stated.

The mayors ask for the information and also to be included in discussions with the state and nonprofit organizations. The cities also want updates on outcomes for individuals that are placed at certified sober homes.