Homeless on the Seacoast special report
By Kyle Stucker
For the past several months, photojournalist Deb Cram and I have spent extensive time with members of the Seacoast’s homeless community to gain a better understanding of these individuals and the challenges they face.
What we found is a convergence of factors and problems that paint a local picture of homelessness that is potentially more prevalent and dire than ever before.
There is no singular face nor cause of homelessness. We spoke with a couple dozen homeless individuals, including single parents, youth, a family living out of a van, and people tenting in the woods because they feel they have nowhere else to go.
We also spoke with countless social service agencies, shelters, city officials, school districts, law enforcement agencies, community members and organizations from across Rockingham and Strafford counties. It was readily apparent: No two homeless individuals have the same story and any attempts to buck the rise in homelessness must address the very diverse sets of challenges each one of them face.
We hope by sharing these stories, the community will be inspired to help people who aren't different than you or I. It’s not a stretch to say many people living paycheck to paycheck are only a couple of bad breaks — self-inflicted or otherwise — from finding themselves without a roof over their heads.
Many homeless people have addiction, mental illness or disability woven through their stories, but their challenges are not restricted to those issues. Trauma, rape, abuse, poverty, evictions, crime, and an inability to find affordable apartments are among some of the many other obstacles the people we met discussed in intimate and brutally honest detail.
At first, some of these individuals may seem unsympathetic. Some readers might even question why a couple of the people with long criminal records — like Earl Shaffer, a Rochester tenter — are deserving of sympathy.
Earl has convictions in multiple states and he was acquitted of his highest-profile local charge, a Dover kidnapping in 2016. He was also one of the most forthcoming individuals we encountered, and my hope is that his sincerity comes through in our series. Not once did he mislead us with false information. And even if he and others weren’t forthcoming, they are still human beings. They are individuals facing obstacles not entirely of their own making as the vast majority of them attempt to make things right and rejoin the community.
In many ways, these individuals are like canaries in the coal mine, showing signs of the many issues spreading through the region’s housing market and limited resources network. Across the Seacoast, local welfare and enforcement budgets are being drained by the challenges of homelessness. The New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness tells us it expects a rise in numbers of homeless people when its 2017 report is released. These challenges are preventing municipalities in both Rockingham and Strafford counties from fully funding other areas or doing more to move their communities forward.
There is no true end to end of any of the stories we will publish in this special report, nor will this series be the end of our coverage of the Seacoast's homelessness. We feel is important to share this series now because we believe increased awareness will help the community better understand and address the many issues for which homelessness is a symptom.