Lebanon — Veteran social service leaders said they’re concerned by Tri-County Community Action Program’s recent decision to dismiss a longtime homeless advocate from its Lebanon office.
Tri-Cap, which runs several aid programs in northern New Hampshire, dismissed Dianne Munson “without warning” on Feb. 1 from her position as a homeless outreach coordinator, according to a Lebanon city manager’s report filed on Wednesday.
Since then, the city has been without a full-time outreach worker, and the organization’s Littleton, N.H., office has been working to extend its services south, the report said.
“It was an unexpected and somewhat puzzling development,” said Sara Kobylenski, executive director of the Upper Valley Haven, on Wednesday.
Munson and her predecessors in Lebanon have traditionally acted as the “boots on the ground” for homeless work in the Upper Valley, Kobylenski said. The job often entails hiking into the woods and hard to find spaces in order to find the homeless and connect them with aid.
Munson was well-known for her role last summer documenting and working to find programs for people living at an encampment in a city-owned lot in West Lebanon. She also later served on the city’s ad hoc task force on homelessness, which sought to find ways to help those living at the lot.
Joe Rogers, Tri-Cap’s human resources director, declined to comment on Munson’s departure from the nonprofit on Wednesday. Multiple messages left on Munson’s home and personal cellphone were not returned.
“Right now we’re hiring for the position down there,” Andy Stone, Tri-Cap’s homeless outreach coordinator in Littleton, N.H., said when reached on Wednesday. “(The office is) not staffed five days out of the week.”
However, Tri-Cap’s website didn’t list an opening for the position on Wednesday. Neither did the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits’ website.
Kobylenski said the outreach position is an important link between organizations that provide aid, such as the Haven and Listen Community Services, and those in need.
It’s one of several positions Tri-Cap once funded at it’s Lebanon offices before the organization began making cuts.
In 2012, Tri-County CAP was appointed a state receiver after the nonprofit took out more than $2 million in debt and drew on an additional $1 million from restricted funds to cover operating expenses.
The nonprofit then closed five of it’s eight walk-in offices in 2015, including those that processed applications for fuel and heating aid in Lebanon and Woodsville.
In its 2017 city budget, Lebanon also cut about $7,500 in funding for Tri-Cap. Interim City Manager Paula Maville said the organization was requesting the fund to pay for rent, and the money wasn’t related to salaries.
“Over the years, the staffing in their Lebanon office has been rich but small. They’re very energetic people but not very many of them,” Kobylenski said.
But Tri-Cap reducing staff without communicating its plans to partners isn’t a workable way to operate, she said, adding the Haven wasn’t told about Munson’s departure until days after the fact.
Merilynn Bourne, the former executive director of Listen Community Services, also sees CAP as a valuable resource. The homeless outreach coordinator was someone Listen staff frequently called whenever they needed to coordinate care, she said.
“All I can say from my 20 years of experience is that it’s a position we use often. It’s an important position and I guess I would like to hear from Tri-County on why they thought there was a need to lose it,” Bourne said.
With Munson’s position left vacant, Kobylenski said she worries about the people who might not be being reached.
There were times when Munson was able to find a homeless person in the nick of time, she said, and that might not be happening with her gone.
“You don’t know what you’re missing when you’re not doing it,” she said. “In the past, (Munson has) alerted us to situations and we’ve been able to get to people. It’s that kind of thing that doesn’t show up instantly and immediately.”
Tim Camerato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.