by Mike Apfelberg, President of United Way of Greater Nashua
When I talk with people in the community about homelessness, I am often met with a feeling that the issue is too big… too hard… too onerous for us to tackle. And the truth is, homelessness is, in fact, a tough issue. Individuals – adults and children – and families can and do become homeless for a wide variety of reasons. While it is true that sometimes it is because of poor decisions, much more often it is for reasons truly beyond a person’s own control. Perhaps a person becomes a victim of domestic violence? Perhaps a person loses their job? Or perhaps there is an unexpected and severe illness in the family. I am sure that if you think about it, you can probably come up with any number of reasons why you, too, could become homeless.
A few years ago, my family had such a crisis, and my wife reflected on this at our annual sleepout. In our case, my Mother-in-Law become seriously ill with a sudden and life-threatening illness. She lives abroad and my wife went to take care of her. What started, in our eyes, as a quick two-week supportive trip to Germany became a 7-month ordeal with my wife needing to stay abroad to take care of her mother. During that time my wife ended up losing her job, with its associated income and benefits like health insurance. We were lucky. As my wife reflected at the sleepout, we were able to get by on my income and our savings, and we were able to obtain health insurance for my wife on the marketplace. We did not lose our home and ultimately, upon her return, my wife got her job back. However, the circumstance of the situation brought home the point to us that this could happen to us, just like it does to so many others.
Fortunately, in our community we have a great many resources to support people in crisis. One of those resources, which is a critical part of our safety, is called transitional housing. Through transitional housing programs we can move families experiencing homelessness to a stable environment and, with support, time, and effort on their part, into being housed and self-sufficient. The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines Transitional Housing as “a project designed to provide housing and appropriate supportive services to facilitate movement to independent living.” The nonprofits in our community which provide Transitional Housing include – for single moms – the Front Door Agency and Marguerite’s Place – for families which also might include a dad – Family Promise -for youth between 18 and 24 – the Nashua Children’s Home’s Transitional Living Program – and for individuals experiencing domestic or sexual violence – Bridges. While each of these programs are slightly different, especially in terms of the specific groups/individuals they serve, they all have in common the concept of providing safe and stable housing and support services so that a person or family can be able to again be self-sufficient after a period, typically 6-18 months.
During the time of Transitional Living, the individual or family receives financial literacy education, has the opportunity (and responsibility) to go back to school or obtain employment, save up, and at the end of the program or “graduation” find housing. As you might imagine, this approach can be very successful, which is the reason why at United Way we are big supporters of Transitional Housing. It is the type of program which represents a hand up in life. And sometimes we all need that.
As a deeper dive into just one of these programs, take the example of Marguerite’s Place. According to their Executive Director, Hannah Stohler, “Family homelessness is too often an “invisible” epidemic in our country, and this is certainly true in Nashua. While we are making strides in reducing single adult homelessness and veteran homelessness in New Hampshire, Family Homelessness continues to increase. Worse, we think that the numbers reported are low because family homelessness can be hard to identify; it often looks like families staying on couches or doubled up with family members or moving from place to place with no permanent address of their own. Transitional Housing offers the opportunity for families to interrupt cycles of instability and to have a safe place to call home while they build a future. The holistic supports provided in our program help families grow towards long-term success. What’s so special about transitional housing for families is the generational impact; we know that we are not only changing the lives of a parent in need but intervening in a young child’s life in a way that can ensure that they will not experience the same challenges in their own adulthoods.”
Marguerite’s Place has a 27-year history of empowering families in crisis establish sustainable self-sufficiency through a continuum of supports including transitional housing, childcare, and community-based services. A family’s journey at Marguerite’s Place begins by moving into a private, fully furnished apartment where parents and their children begin to stabilize. After moving in, residents partner with a case manager who connects them with critical services and works with the family to create an individualized support plan. While at Marguerite’s Place, parents can prioritize their professional goals, healing, financial stability, and confidence due to the Marguerite’s Place childcare facility on-site. However, their childcare does more than reduce a barrier towards self-sufficiency for their parents; it intentionally addresses the trauma that children endure by experiencing homelessness. For children, this trauma impacts developing brains and can result in behavioral challenges, school failure, eventual substance use and more. Their childcare staff is trained in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma-informed care to support children who are showing symptoms of traumatic impact and deploy a social-emotional curriculum to help children develop healthy coping skills. They understand that homelessness impacts all family members, and thus requires a fully-family response. In addition to their childcare program, they also support families in their parenting and provide connection to key community resources so that children can thrive alongside their parents.
According to Danielle, a Marguerite’s Place housing resident, “MP has given us a safe and stable place to heal and grow together. The staff and residents are a MASSIVE support group, and we wouldn’t be where we are without them all.”
Of course, the other programs mentioned, including Bridges, Front Door, Family Promise, and Nashua Children’s Home TLP have similar elements. And all of them are critical components to the effectiveness of our Community Safety Net. I encourage you to learn more about each of these programs and if you can, find ways to support them, either as a volunteer or as a donor (or both). And if you support the United Way campaign, you support most of them all at once, which makes a lot of Great Things Happen, and of course that’s what we call LIVING UNITED! Happy Holidays and here’s to a tremendous 2022, full of love, blessings, and a supportive community.
Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua, which has served our community since 1929 and is a Charity Navigator/GuideStar Top Rated Charity.