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Homelessness Initiatives FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the primary reason that people are homeless?

There is no primary reason why someone is homeless.  For many years since de-institutionalization in the 1970s we have understood that a large number of homeless individuals suffer with mental health and/or substance use disorders.   One of the biggest drivers of homelessness is poverty and related oppression.  The experience of homelessness itself….is traumatic.  We also understand that underneath this trauma there is often a common thread of pre-existing traumas often described as adverse childhood experiences or ACEs.  Rehabilitation involves approaches that increase trust, build life skills, and connect individuals to medical and behavioral health services alongside of subsidized housing.  At this time, post-pandemic, the entire county is experiencing a housing crisis.  Despite the profile just described of common homelessness, more and more we are seeing people becoming homeless simply because there is not enough housing.


How do we reduce homelessness in our community? 

We come together as a community to pool our resources and talents to problem solve, using best practice models that are evidence-based in reducing homelessness.  We use data to drive our decisions around who we need to serve and evaluate our outcomes.  We utilize expert consultancy and guidance to choose our path forward so that we maximize our funding support and move towards the goals of our programming moving people quickly out of homelessness and sustaining them in housing.  We focus on the immediate crisis response in balance with the upstream prevention.  We work closely with the County, State, and regional partners to manage the issue collectively.


What is the Continuum of Care?

The CoC is a community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to meet the specific needs of people who are homeless as they move to stable housing and maximize self-sufficiency.  It includes action steps to end homelessness and prevent a return to homelessness.  Key programming includes Emergency Shelter, Transitional Shelter, Rapid-Rehousing, and Permanent Supportive Housing.  Key strategies include diversion programming and a coordinated-entry process.  There are 3 COCs in NH and the structure and best practices are guided, mandated, and partially funded by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  All efforts to end homelessness in the City need to be integrated at the Continuum of Care to be successful and well resourced.


What can be done about the issues that homelessness cause in our community such as encampments, trash, discarded syringes, homelessness related crime, public safety, and disruption to business?

The City departments especially Police, Fire, Health, Public Works, Planning and Development, Welfare, and Housing Stability are working collaboratively to assess, address, and monitor all issues.  New approaches and consistency in outreach, enforcement, clean up, and presence in the community areas most in need helps minimizes the problems.  The City is coordinating a City-wide response involving the larger community of local and state partners that maximizes communication and coordination.  The number one way to help reduce issues related to homelessness is to create safe spaces and low-barrier programming where our most vulnerable and at-risk can meet their basic needs and consider taking next steps in recovery.

Homelessness Fact vs. Fiction 

There are many myths about the causes of and solutions to homelessness, particularly the “Housing First” approach that has been proven by decades of research to be effective and cost-effective. Below are some of the most common myths—and the reality surrounding them:

Myth: People experiencing homelessness just need to get a job.  

Fact: While employment helps people stay housed, it does not guarantee housing. As many as 40%-60% of people experiencing homelessness have a job, but housing is unaffordable because wages have not kept up with rising rents. There is no county or state where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a modest apartment. At minimum wage, people have to work 86 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom. Even when people can afford a home, one is not always available. In 1970, the United States had a surplus of 300,000 affordable homes. Today, only 37 affordable homes are available for every 100 extremely low-income renters. As a result, 70% of the lowest-wage households spend more than half their income on rent, placing them at high risk of homelessness when unexpected expenses (such as car repairs and medical bills) arise.

Myth: People experiencing homelessness choose to live outside in tents or cars.

Fact: Homelessness usually happens because of economic reasons (such as job loss), and many people have nowhere else to go but outside. Many shelters are full or limited to people who are sober, straight, free of disability or criminal history, and/or willing to separate from their children, partners, or pets. These discriminatory policies leave parents, couples, pet owners, LGBTQI+ members, and people with addictions, disabilities, or criminal records on the streets, where they live in constant fear of hunger, violence, storms, and infectious disease. “Out of sight, out of mind” laws that make it illegal to sit or sleep in public outdoor spaces only exacerbate the revolving door between homelessness and incarceration, and they do not solve homelessness. Housing and supports solve homelessness—not handcuffs.

Myth: People experiencing homelessness are dangerous and violent.  

Fact: Not having a home does not make someone a criminal, just like having a home does not make someone innocent of any and all crimes. According to data, people experiencing homelessness are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than to commit violent crime. But because of the infrequency of violent crimes committed by people experiencing homelessness, they tend to be considered “newsworthy” and attract more media attention.  

Myth: Most people experiencing homelessness have a substance use and/or mental health disorder.

Fact: While rates of homelessness for people with severe mental health or substance use disorders are high, the majority of people with no home also have no mental health or substance use disorder. Furthermore, the large majority of Americans with mental health or substance use disorders do not experience homelessness, demonstrating that mental health and substance use disorders do not cause homelessness.

Myth: Homelessness is not preventable.

Fact: Homelessness is a policy choice, and the COVID-19 pandemic proved the power of prevention. During the pandemic, governments instituted eviction moratoriums, deployed emergency rental assistance, expanded unemployment assistance and the Child Tax Credit, and issued cash directly to millions of lower-income Americans. In effect, poverty dropped by 45%, millions of evictions were prevented, and homelessness remained steady during a time when a surge in homelessness would have been expected. 

Myth: Housing First only helps people get housing but does not address the issues that led them to homelessness—and could again.

Fact: The Housing First approach recognizes that housing is the immediate solution to homelessness—but not the only solution. Housing First offers support (such as substance use treatment, legal aid, or job training) at the same time as housing and continues to offer support long after people are housed to prevent them from losing their home again. One element that sets Housing First apart from some other approaches is that it does not force people to accept support. Forced mental health or substance use treatment, for instance, is proven to be largely ineffective and to have unintended, harmful, even deadly consequences.  

Myth: Housing First is expensive and ineffective.

Fact: Decades of research prove how effective and cost-effective Housing First can be. Studies show that 9 out of 10 people remain housed a year after receiving Housing First assistance, and that housing can be three times cheaper than criminalization. According to a recent study, Housing First pays for itself within 1.5 years and can reduce homelessness and government reliance—all while getting people back to work.