Finding Shelter in Wolfeboro

Today’s annual Cooper Series brought together three New Hampshire women to talk about homelessness in New Hampshire and its impact locally. Although such a topic is neither easy nor uplifting, the women were here to discuss good news – the opening of Hope House, a home that will provide short-term emergency housing and services to homeless families with children in the regional school district and a place where Brewster students have been encouraged to share their time.

First Dr. Cathy Kuhn, director of the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness and vice president of research and training at the homeless service provider Families in Transition (FIT), explained what homelessness looks like in New Hampshire. Nearly 5 percent of students (127 students) in the local school district are homeless. Stephanie Allain Savard, the chief operating officer of Families in Transition, talked about solutions around the state including the importance of addressing the issue of what brought a family to homelessness while also providing comprehensive support, such as transitional housing, health care, nutrition, transportation, and job training to help sustain long-term housing for families.

Maureen Beauregard, president and founder of FIT, was the final speaker and she shared the story of how Hope House came to be.  “When I think about Hope House I think about how it all started. And having been the first employee at FIT almost 26 years ago, I still find it absolutely mind boggling and so moving that there are people in our community, in our state that are willing to look up and out and think about others and that’s exactly how Hope House started.

“There was a group doing light hiking and one person said to the other ‘there are about 127 kids that are part of the Governor Wentworth School District who are homeless.’ And one of the  women said ‘what are you kidding me? there are homeless people in Wolfeboro?’ And that is what started this whole movement in Wolfeboro to create a shelter for the homeless in the Governor Wentworth School District. That group started it and honestly it’s mostly funded by individuals. A lot of the programs that we have been able to create at Families in Transition were done by Housing and Urban Development money, state money, you-name-it money but this is really about individuals saying there isn’t enough out there to get this done so we are going to step in and do something about it.”

In a follow-up Q&A, students asked questions about homelessness and Hope House, including the following: What is NIMBY? (not in my backyard); How can Brewster student’s be involved at Hope House? (by volunteering their time working on reading skills and homework with the children, being a big brother or sister of sorts, participate in a fundraising run); What’s the one thing you wish people understood about the families you serve? (the stigma, perception, and labeling: it’s a person experiencing homelessness, not a homeless person; they are people who have challenges that they need help with.

Beauregard encouraged the students to think beyond themselves. “You all will have the time, treasure, and talent to step up and be a part of something bigger than yourselves, your family, or your jobs. By volunteering or doing something over at Hope House I’m hopeful that you will take that and when you leave and you go to college and you are all done, I hope you think of those three words – that you use your time to help somebody other than yourself. Possibly your treasure, if you make enough money you can give some of it away. Your talent. We have a board of directors at FIT and we have some very talented attorneys who just helped us merge with another organization. So there are lots of opportunities for Brewster and Hope House to come together.”

Hope House is located on Lehner Street and renovation is expected to begin in December with the facility ready for families in late spring or early summer.

The Cooper Series began in 2014 to bring together thought leaders to inspire the Brewster community. It is named in honor of Dr. Michael E. Cooper, Brewster’s 11th head of school.

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