The need for shelter for homeless families is greater than ever and the Friends Emergency Housing Program is the only family shelter in Merrimack County. Did you know that the average age of a homeless person is 9 years old and more than 50% of those that are homeless are families with children? Finding affordable housing for the low-income families we serve is extremely difficult. In fact, not only is the affordable housing shortage impacting low-income single-parent families, but all families in the New Hampshire workforce. With the New Hampshire unemployment rate at 3%, 9% of New Hampshire households live at or below the poverty line.
The cost of rental housing in our community remains alarmingly high. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Merrimack County is $1,176 per month with a vacancy rate of 1.1% according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority. This is a 12.5% increase in the past 5 years and these cost increases are being felt across all housing types.
As the only family shelter in Merrimack County, we are especially aware of the growing number of homeless children. The majority of our shelter residents are homeless children. Across the state, the number of homeless children continues to rise. In 2016 (state of NH fiscal year), nearly half the persons experiencing homelessness in New Hampshire were families with children with 566 adults and 787 children in 497 families. In our last fiscal year, the Friends Emergency Housing program served 34 families: 95 people (55 children and 40 adults).
The importance of stable housing and economic security in a child’s life cannot be overstated. Homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life and its effects can be swift, severe and critical should interventions not occur. The trauma of homelessness can break families apart. Equally important, homeless adults need to be supported in their role as parents while making long-lasting positive strides to enhance family stability. The goal of our shelter program is to assist in expediting the family’s move into permanent housing, but also understand the responsibility of tending to family functioning.