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Column: Statistics show the homeless need help

Current statistics on impoverishment are sobering indeed. New Hampshire and Vermont experienced 18 percent and 27 percent increases, respectively, over last year’s numbers regarding the citizens who are homeless.

And the issues that these people face are not just about needing a home; rather, they are also about education, job skills and other forms of family support. Emergency shelters are not the final answer because they do not offer permanency or personalized assistance.

Yet even with longer stays at transitional shelters, and the high level of personalized support provided by the Monadnock Area Transitional Shelter (MATS) in Peterborough, some of our guests discover upon leaving that they are only slightly better off than when they came to us. And too often, people from other transitional shelters find they need to return to the system within a few months.

Since the new median cost of a two-bedroom apartment in New Hampshire has risen to $1,085 per month, up from $1,050 last year, more of our state’s citizens are left without a place to live. Other areas of the United States are also seeing increases in their statistics about people who are homeless.

In one county in Missouri, for example, the number of poor people, many of them children, grew in a 10-year period to 50,400, creating a new culture of poverty.

Of course, these people need jobs first and foremost, but they also need the re-establishment of their own self-worth. Without that, it is difficult to pass the necessary skills onto their children, skills that will help lift the next generation out of poverty. And children are very aware of their parents’ financial struggles and often experience anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A new kind of shelter in New York City called Homes for the Homeless (HFH) was formed in the 1980s. Since its founding, the organization has served 7,600 families, which included 17,300 children.

Over the years, HFH’s staff has recognized the importance of education for these families. They also have realized that poverty often threatens a child’s education for the following reasons: these children are eight times more likely to repeat a grade, four times more likely to drop out of school, three times more likely to be in the special education programs, and twice as likely to have low scores on standardized tests. To combat these facts, staff members now offer after-school help for children at the HFH shelters; at the same time, they teach the children important life skills, such as good nutrition and housekeeping habits.

People who live in poverty or who are homeless need stability as well as long-term comprehensive life skills and learning. At MATS, we strongly encourage our guests to partake of the many programs at The River Center, including the parenting classes; to sign up for all state programs that will help them, such as Healthy Kids insurance for the children; to complete their GED if they lack a High School diploma; and to seek help at Monadnock Family Services. Our case manager meets at least once a week with our guests, teaching them better budgeting and housekeeping skills, steering them to substance-abuse programs if needed, and linking them with a board member who calls or visits them as a friend on a regular basis, even after they leave MATS. By doing all that we can at MATS, our aim is always to assist our guests move on to a better life.

Please notice the jars placed on the counters of many area stores asking for change as we remember those who are hungry and without a home during the months of November and December. Thank you.

Our wish list this month is for a reliable car. You may contact the MATS office at 924-5033. Also, if you are or know of a former MATS guest, we hope you will call the office so that we can keep in touch.

Hope Pettegrew of Hancock is a member of the MATS board of directors. Nancy Perkins of Peterborough is a MATS volunteer. MATS is a partner of The River Center in Peterborough. MATS is not an emergency shelter.

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