Council requests homeless report

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/5/2023 9:00:18 PM
Modified: 2/5/2023 8:59:37 PM

LEBANON — The City Council took preliminary steps last week toward a focused discussion about the city’s lack of a homeless shelter. Councilors directed City Manager Shaun Mulholland to gather data and information about funding, developing and operating “shelter solutions” for residents without housing.

At a meeting Wednesday, Councilors Devin Wilkie and George Sykes noted the Upper Valley’s overall lack of emergency housing provisions to address the region’s homeless population. The only homeless shelters in the Upper Valley are the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction and a shelter in Claremont.

While affordable housing access has been a major priority of the City Council, Wilkie noted that the topic of homelessness is “one of the most overlooked.”

“This is indeed a need that we have in the area (but) the groundwork has not been fully laid to examine what we can do to provide a low-barrier shelter here,” Wilkie said.

City officials said they ideally would like a regional homeless shelter that is co-funded and relied on by multiple municipalities in the area. But Lebanon would be a logical fit for a shelter location due to the services available, particularly public transportation, health care, social services and employment opportunities.

The council motion, which was unanimously approved, directs the city manager to “collect and analyze appropriate data to inform a discussion for possible funding, development and operating models and options for shelter solutions for the unhoused.”

The motion set the end of May as a tentative deadline to complete the report.

Notably the councilors modified Wilkie’s original motion’s wording, which sought “to examine possible properties, funding and development options for low-barrier shelter.” In the council’s adopted motion, the mention of “low-barrier shelter” and the directive to examine possible locations were omitted.

Mayor Tim McNamara, who recommended scaling back Wilkie’s proposal, felt the motion would have over-committed the council to a particular type of facility before having informative data.

“My guess is that while a low-barrier shelter, or shelters, is part of the solution, it isn’t addressing all of the homelessness issues,” McNamara explained. “My preference (is to) first have a better idea of what the problem is so that we can identify what the solutions may be.”

Mulholland added that the city must first research the population data to know the size of the facility that is being considered before looking at properties.

Council members also said they wished to avoid alarming Lebanon residents by suggesting the city is already committed to building a homeless shelter, which has historically been a contentious issue in the city.

“We want to have as much public consensus on this issue as possible,” McNamara said. “And the way (the original proposal) is crafted, regardless of what the intent is, that may not be the public perception. And if the public thinks we have made a decision and are moving forward, we are going to get a lot of pushback, and I don’t want that.”

Even Councilor Karen Liot Hill, while supportive of Wilkie’s original wording, emphasized that the City Council is “not committing to anything other than collecting data and producing a report” to inform a discussion.

But some councilors, as well as city administrators, indicated that their end goal is to have accessible shelter options, not a discussion without substantive outcomes.

“I don’t want us to (just) examine and examine and examine,” Sykes told colleagues.

“Any data that moves us in any direction is going to have to address the need for low-barrier shelter, be it one or multiple,” Wilkie said.

Mulholland also stressed the need for city action, regardless of anticipated community concerns.

“Everyone keeps saying ‘No, not over there,’ but the problem is not getting solved,” Mulholland said. “And isn’t government supposed to solve problems? People have been living out on the streets for years, and it’s getting worse, not just here but across the country.”

While Mulholland still aims for a regionally-supported shelter, he said Lebanon must begin addressing its own issues.

“We can’t wait around for everyone else to get on board because they probably won’t,” Mulholland said. “We can’t wait. We’re not going to solve this in a couple of months, but next winter is going to come around and it’s going to be just as cold.”

Lebanon Human Resources Director Lynne Goodwin told the Valley News in December that she knew of “at least” 13 individuals who were living in a tent or a vehicle, in addition to the individuals and families living in motel rooms, which is where Lebanon will place people when the Haven or Sullivan County shelter are at capacity.

Lebanon recently conducted a point in time count, a count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night. Lebanon Assistant Director of Human Services Rebecca Desilets said that the final counts are still being compiled.

Goodwin told the City Council on Wednesday that the city attempted to find a property last year to serve as a temporary shelter for the winter months, but the only possible properties would have required too much renovation.

Goodwin, with the help of Michael Redmond, the Haven’s executive director, secured an additional 10 motel rooms to house people through February, though Goodwin said these are not enough to meet the need.

According to McNamara, a number of people who have been living in motels due to a lack of housing may soon lose the funding that had covered their rent. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, a federally funded program which has provided rental and utility assistance to eligible individuals since March 21, is scheduled to end in a few months, possibly by the end of May or June, McNamara said. ERAP also covered the rental fee of motel room rent for people without housing.

McNamara also said that New Hampshire’s 13 mayors are currently pressing the state for more resources to help municipalities address their homelessness challenges. Lebanon is one of five New Hampshire cities — along with Manchester, Berlin, Nashua and Concord — that have committed employees to develop statewide recommendations for how to best aid the municipalities. These recommendations will be submitted to the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs by the end of April. Taylor Caswell, the department’s commissioner, requested these recommendations during a recent meeting with the mayoral group.

Lebanon has designated Goodwin and Assistant City Manager David Brooks to work on the statewide recommendation plan. Mulholland said he plans to contract an outside firm to work on the council’s homelessness report.

“We need to bring in someone else to help collect the data,” Mulholland said. “But we have the money to pay for that and we are going to do it.”

Patrick Adrian may be reached at or at 603-727-3216.

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