Peterborough

Rebuilding lives by offering stability

Spirit of Giving: Monadnock Area Transitional Shelter

Jessica moved to New Hampshire from Los Angeles three years ago. She doesn’t have an extensive network of friends or family in the area, other than her mother, with whom she lived for a time. When that relationship broke down, and Jessica could no longer live with her mother, she found herself out on the street, with no job, no savings, few resources and a 2-year-old son to support.

She and her son spent a night sleeping in her car in the Walmart parking lot in Rindge, and at the time Jessica did not know what her next step would be. Her number one priority was her child, she said in an interview last week.

“I had no idea what I was going to do. I was at a loss. I had no job or income. I had nothing,” said Jessica, who asked that the Ledger-Transcript not publish her last name.

She contacted the River Center in Peterborough, a community and family resource center that had assisted her during her pregnancy. It was through the River Center that she learned about the Monadnock Area Transitional Shelter.

MATS is not an emergency shelter. Founded in 1991, it takes in individuals or families, both men and women, ages 21 and older, housing them in one of four Peterborough apartments. Depending on the need and the availability, families sometimes have to share apartments. MATS pays for many essentials — heat, basic phone and electricity — while those staying with them get back on their feet. If the resident has a car that needs fixing, MATS can help take care of that, too. Guests are responsible for paying for their own food, as well as extras like cell phone service, but MATS will assist them in connecting with state or federal assistance programs, as well as leading them to community resources, such as food pantries and clothing closets. The aim is always to help transition people from the shelter to an independent way of living.

In April, when she first found herself without a place to call home, Jessica said she feared she wouldn’t qualify for the kind of help MATS offers. But within a week of getting in contact with MATS, she had met the organization’s case manager, gone through MATS interview process and criminal background check and, just like that, she and her son had a safe, secure place to call home at the end of the day.

“The first thing they asked was how my car ran. It had some brake problems, and they took my car to the shop to get it fixed. For the first time in 10 years, I was able to get my teeth cleaned. I was able to get a free haircut. They’re these little things that when you don’t have money, you put aside because you have to put it towards gas or caring for your child, but honestly they mean so much.”

Jessica was already approved for a grant to study nursing, and MATS assisted her with finding childcare for her son so she could attend classes to become an licensed nursing assistant. Eventually, she found a part-time job at a nursing home.

Weekly visits from her MATS case manager was vital, Jessica said. When her food stamps were cut, because the grant for her schooling was counted towards her income, it was her case manager that guided her through the issue and encouraged her to resubmit her application for food stamps.

“Just having someone there that knew the process, to let me know I could fight it, was a big help. Before, I would have just said, ‘Well, that’s that.’”

What MATS does

Now, with the help of MATS, Jessica has two part-time jobs, and is attending Nashua Community College to get her prerequisites for a nursing degree, a program she will be starting next fall. By January, she will no longer be a client of MATS. She is already filling out her paperwork to move into low-income housing in Peterborough, for which she has been on the waiting list for several months. Jessica is moving towards independent living again. And in the interim, she still has a safe and warm place to sleep each night.

“It feels like home,” she said of her MATS apartment. “When I leave school or work, I feel like I’m going home. I have friends that live there or that have moved on, but stay in touch. It’s my space. Knowing that I have that space for myself, it’s amazing. It really is.”

MATS houses individuals and families for as long as needed, until they are able to get back on their feet, said Joan Foucher, president of the MATS Board of Trustees, in an interview last week. Generally, that takes between three months and a year. MATS guests have to be motivated to look beyond their current situation and willing to work towards moving out of their MATS housing and back into the community.

“Generally it takes people at least six months to reach a point where they’re able to move on with their lives independently,” said Foucher. “I think the need for a transitional shelter will always be there. We see these crises that cause people just to need a helping hand. MATS is a tremendous asset to the community in offering a warm, safe place to let people process through a challenging life situation.”

Each week, guests of MATS meet with their case manager, who helps them apply for assistance programs, adjust their budget, search for jobs, and set future goals to work towards.

What MATS needs

For privacy reasons, MATS does not disclose the location of its transitional apartments casually, said Foucher. Occasionally, volunteers will help at the site with tasks such as moving in furniture, but most of the volunteer opportunities are behind the scenes. MATS is run by a volunteer board, and they rely on volunteers with financial expertise for tax preparation assistance. Volunteers help stuff mailers or make preparations during fundraisers. But there are other ways to help, too.

Donations don’t need to be monetary to make a difference, Foucher said. MATS relies on donations of things like furniture to stock the temporary homes and in the past year has even received three donated vehicles, which guests can borrow to get to work or attend schooling. The Fresh Chicks Open Air Market donates fresh fruit in the summer that gets distributed among MATS residents.

MATS is hoping to promote its single paid employee — the case manager — to a full-time position of either 35 or 40 hours weekly. That would allow her to focus more on prevention and connection with people in marginal categories to help them access resources before they reach the point of losing their homes and needing the services of the shelter. That would increase the shelter’s currently $81,000 yearly operating costs by between $11,000 and $17,000 this coming year, Foucher noted.

“So many people end up finding themselves in need. Many tend to think they don’t qualify for many of the services available. Sometimes its something like a major medical problem that’s gotten the finances out of whack,” said Foucher.

Monetary donations go towards paying the day-to-day living expenses that MATS covers for its residents — the mortgage on MATS housing and heating costs, for example. MATS is in the process of adding a feature to their website that will allow direct donations, which will be active by the end of January. Currently, donations can be sent by checks to MATS, PO Box 3053, Peterborough, NH 03458.

To inquire about shelter space at MATS, contact your local welfare officer who will get in touch with MATS, or call 211 or 1-866-444-4211 to reach a hotline that connects callers at no cost to information about critical health and human services available in your community. You may also email MATS directly at matscasemanager@gmail.com, or call the office at 924-5033 to leave a message for the case manager.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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