The Willand Drive warm-up center in Somersworth, which housed more than 300 people during the 2021-22 season, will close on April 1 as planned. Where many shelter guests will go now and next winter remains uncertain.

Betsey Andrews Parker is the head of the shelter operator Strafford County Community Action Partnership, which works year-round with the homeless population. She was asked Friday if she expected some clients to return to live in the woods this spring.

“Not if we can help him,” she said. “However, there is a housing shortage in our area. And some people will be left with options such as going back and camping in the woods.”

The warm-up center opened full-time at the end of November with the Tri-Cities of Dover, Rochester and Somersworth in partnership with Andrews Parker’s team. The opening came weeks after Somersworth Police cleared homeless encampments on November 8 on private Garabedian Trust property near Willand Pond. The clearing of the camp was preceded by weeks of advance warning and coincided with services offered to displaced people.

Some of the people living in encampments before they were evacuated last fall admitted they had substance abuse issues and/or criminal records that made it difficult to find housing. The large property had been the site of homeless encampments for years.

Daniel Clark, shelter manager for Community Action Partnership of Strafford County, walks through the second floor of the Willand Drive shelter in Somersworth amid preparations for opening on Monday, November 29, 2021.

Some people are probably forced back into the woods

Without pinpointing a specific location, Andrews Parker said she expects some people will again be forced to live in the woods ‘because there isn’t enough affordable housing or landlords ready to move in. people who live in the shelter”.

She said customers are often rejected by landlords for a variety of reasons, including not having a permanent address or having their Housing Choice vouchers not accepted by the landlord.

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She noted that the housing market is so tight locally that people with good credit cannot find housing and there are long waiting lists. “So my clients are at a huge disadvantage.”

She noted that Community Action Partnership will work with landlords and has funding to help cover costs such as security deposits.

“I really implore people, if you want to help us solve this problem, you have to work for us,” she said. “We just don’t have enough landlords who want to do this. If you don’t want to see homeless people on the streets and hear about this issue all the time, you have to make it work.”

A homeless person interacts with a Somersworth Police officer as homeless encampments are cleared on property owned by Garabedian Trust near Willand Pond on Monday November 8, 2021.

The warming center, with the support of the cities, has been providing emergency shelter to homeless people since November 29. Officials said 218 men and 101 women with an average age of 40 were housed at the Willand Drive warming center in 2021-22. to March 14. This includes 71 people with disabilities and 11 veterans.

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Andrews Parker praised his staff and added: “We couldn’t have done the job we did, keeping people alive through the winter, without the help of volunteers. We are forever grateful. .”

And next winter?

Leaders in Dover, Rochester and Somersworth have yet to announce what will replace the shelter for the 2022-23 winter, but officials on Friday provided an outline of what is being explored.

Tri-City leaders said Friday efforts to replace the warming center next winter include “identifying and offering support to faith-based organizations, treatment providers and other non-profit groups.” nonprofit providing services and providing safe respite to homeless people”.

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Andrews Parker said she is confident “something will be in place” next winter, but noted there are limits to what the cities and her organization can do.

“There are limits to funding, there are limits to space,” she said. “Cities have been working and pursuing many different avenues. People need to be sure they’re not putting it on the back burner. It’s an active effort.”

The City of Dover owns the warming center at 30 Willand Drive in Somersworth, having bought it with a grant.

Officials said they are also working on “obtaining state and federal funding for additional transitional housing for those without homes and efforts to encourage the development of more affordable and diverse housing options in each community in the region”.

The Willand Drive Warming Center in Somersworth is owned by the City of Dover, which bought the property in 2020 with a grant. Dover City Manager Michael Joyal said the city was planning to sell the property, but not without a plan in place for next winter.

“It’s going to take time to find a property and get the necessary grant funds to move forward,” Joyal said earlier this month. “As we approach next winter, we want to make sure people aren’t left behind. As for selling this facility right now, I don’t see anything happening until that solution is found, until another facility is in place or being assembled.

This winter, every warming center client was offered resources for medical care, mental health care, substance use disorder treatment, veteran support services, social assistance and social security benefits, according to local leaders. Community Action Partnership helped clients obtain birth certificates and state IDs and complete applications for disability benefits and the Medicaid/Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program.

Community Action Partnership has also helped more than 20 clients find permanent and transitional housing options, according to local leaders.

Resources for homeless people

Tri-City leaders direct people who need help to resources that will remain available after the warming center closes.

This includes Tri-City Social Services:

Dover: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the McConnell Center, 61 Locust St., 603-516-6500;

Rochester: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at City Hall, 31 Wakefield Street, 603-332-3505;

Somerworth: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at City Hall, 1 Government Way, 603-692-9509;

Also listed for resources are:

Strafford County Welcome Center Community Action Partnership: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 577 Central Ave., 603-534-0731; Connect to support services, such as obtaining essential documents like a birth certificate, registering for benefits, applying for employment and housing, and more.

New Hampshire 211: Homeless people anywhere in the state can call 211 to connect with available resources.