Covid-19Magazine Exclusive

Finding them a home

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” —Matthew 8:20

In 2016, Richard Koehler and his family were living in Manchester, N.H., when his wife lost her job. As a result, the couple and their four children suddenly became homeless.

“We called around but the only place we could find where we could stay was the Salvation Army’s Carey House,” said Koehler. It was a family shelter in Laconia, N.H., about an hour from Manchester.

“It meant a lot to me because, instead of being piled into the little car we had at the time, we were able to stay at the shelter. The Salvation Army pretty much took me off the street and helped me get the apartment that we’re in now.”

Koehler’s wife, Kristy, soon found work. Koehler began volunteering at The Salvation Army Family Store in Laconia and was later hired as a driver.

Today, he is the maintenance man for the corps and Kristy works at an insurance company. The family attends the corps and Koehler’s two sons assists the children’s programs.

Koehler sees the homeless issue in Laconia, most notably the encampments that are set up around the small city of about 16,000. Mayor Andrew Hosmer is forming a task force to deal with the issue that will include Major Mike Davis, the commanding officer in Laconia.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said nearly 1,400 people were homeless in New Hampshire each day in 2019.

Belknap County, where Laconia is located, actually saw homelessness increase and then drop between 2017 and 2019, according to the annual report of the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness. The county had 60 homeless people in 2017, a number that jumped to 85 in 2018 and then fell to 50 in 2019.

However, the group said the number of chronically homeless in the county increased from just four in 2017 to 27 last year. “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses a detailed definition for chronically homeless individuals and families who have experienced long episodes of homelessness or numerous episodes over a long period of time,” the report said.

Lieutenant Brian Perks, the assistant corps officer in Laconia, said the homeless problem has been around for the last four to five years.

“The homelessness issue that is here in Laconia is mostly based off of mental illness and drug abuse,” Perks said.

The homeless often congregate near Lake Winnipesaukee and Perks said it’s unclear how many are there due to COVID-19. When winter approaches, many move to abandoned buildings and parking garages. Others choose to commit petty crimes in the hope they will go to jail, where they can be warm and fed.

Some go to Carey House, The Salvation Army’s 40-bed shelter. Perks said there are three other shelters in the city.

The homeless who come to Carey House pay $5 a day and can avail themselves of a case manager, who helps them find employment, housing, and other services.

Perks said that charging a minimal fee of $5 is designed to teach responsibility.

“Some people who are used to living the homeless lifestyle are not in the habit of making payments at the end of the week or at the end of a month,” Perks said. “We want them to begin to understand they have an obligation. Carey House is not just a place for them to come until they find a place, but it is a rehabilitation of sorts.

“We want to make sure the whole of their needs are met and not just lodging.”

Perks said he and Davis are around when the corps holds a daily feeding program from Tuesday to Saturday. About 50-60 people attend each day.

“We’ve been able to talk and pray with some of them and get to know them,” Perks said.

Perks said he draws inspiration from Acts 2, where the early believers met together in prayer and fellowship and looked out for each other’s needs.

“As the early Christians began to give, the church began to grow,” Perks said. “That has been a huge part of The Salvation Army from the beginning.”

Perks said Salvation Army Founder William Booth’s “Soup, Soap, and Salvation” message also drives him to meet the needs of people physically, mentally, and spiritually.

“Booth’s goal was to lift them up from where they were to who they were created to be,” Perks said. “That’s what The Salvation Army’s mission is, to meet the needs of everyone without discrimination and to minister to them in the name of God.”

by Robert Mitchell

The Salvation Army Mission Statement:

The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.