The makeup of the homeless population has evolved and expanded since the establishment of the Homeless Center for Strafford County 25 years ago. With the opening of the new ‘Home for Now’ facility at 202 Washington Street, the organization has significantly increased its capacity to provide shelter.
In September, the board decided to transition the ‘Home for Now’ shelter from being seasonal to year-round, better positioning themselves to assist surrounding communities in order to fulfill their responsibility to support homeless residents.
The catchment area encompasses Strafford County, Rockingham County, and Southern Maine. This transition offers municipalities in the region an extended resource to offer shelter and constructive programs for their homeless populations.
The aspiration to convert to a year-round shelter has been a part of the organization’s strategic plan for some time. The economic challenges of recent years have left their mark, but meetings with local welfare directors and other key stakeholders have highlighted the growing demand for additional emergency shelter options.
In consideration of the factors mentioned above, the Board concluded over the summer that delaying the transition to a year-round operation was not an option.
The Board comprises ordinary local citizens dedicated to continuing the mission that was initiated 25 years ago by another group of local residents. They recognize that individuals may face adversity due to illness, injuries, poor decisions, job loss, or a lack of essential life skills, which can lead to living in cars, couch surfing, staying with relatives, or even worse situations. Often, this includes families with babies, children, and increasingly, the elderly. The organization offers these neighbors a homely environment, life skills training, advocacy for housing and services, and a structured routine.
Board President Kathleen Levesque noted, “This move to a year-round operation comes with its own challenges: we have scaled up staffing, which adds to the other increases in operating costs all around. When the Board of Directors decided to do this, there was much discussion; the need is great – so we’re diving in with an all-in, ‘sink or swim’ mentality. If this is going to succeed, we will need help from every town that will benefit from our being open every day.”
She added, “The Board welcomes conversations as towns, businesses, and citizens consider how they can come along side ‘Home for Now’ with their support. We welcome the opportunity to make new community connections.”
The organization hopes that the surrounding communities will lend their support during this critical year. Those interested in helping can visit their website at https://hcscnh.org. There, they can click on the “25th Anniversary Club” or “Donate via PayPal” options and possibly establish recurring donations. It’s not limited to large businesses; every contribution can make a difference. Regular donations of $10 and $25 per month can accumulate significantly. For instance, a $10 donation from 500 families adds up to $5,000. While they regularly seek grants, steady support from individuals and businesses is what makes the most impact.
The shelter opened this past Monday and is already at full capacity, serving single adults and families with children. Their primary focus is to assist individuals in securing permanent housing, a challenging task in a region where the rental housing market has almost no available and affordable options.
Todd Marsh, the Rochester Welfare Director, shared his thoughts on the transition of the ‘Home for Now’ shelter’s operating status on Washington Street, stating, “Since the Homeless Center for Strafford County opened…, people have often inquired about the shelter transitioning to yearlong emergency housing services. As the first executive director of the shelter, I take special pleasure in seeing this change and am honored to have been at the discussion table leading up to the decision. I look forward to the now yearlong shelter adding to an eclectic mix of emergency housing services throughout the greater seacoast area, which is of value during a time of increasing housing insecurity and to people with varying unique needs. This decision will be the shelter board of director’s lasting legacy.”