When ‘normal’ returns, let us be ready

Can it be just over four months since the world came to a screeching halt? I think we all remember the early days of March when the pandemic came screaming down the road. Schools shut down. Restaurants and retailers closed for business. Lines at the supermarket. Shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes. Armies of mask making volunteers. Main Street, a ghost town. And so much more. When I reflect on those days, not so long ago, and to a great extent still with us, it feels a little surreal.

With all of this came the community response. Groups came together to support the hospitals, quarantined families, children trying to learn from home, teachers attempting to teach from afar, and seniors locked away in nursing homes and their own homes, isolated and lonely. The community response has included so many groups and individuals that it would be impossible to name them all.

We also lost friends. While not as hard hit as places like New York City, in New Hampshire the deaths were nevertheless in the hundreds. Most of us know at least one person who got sick with COVID-19, and many of us lost somebody close to us. Somebody we loved dearly.

Throughout all of this, one of the effects has been to divert our collective attention away from some of our more serious societal problems. But those problems are still there, and I am here to tell you that when we come through the pandemic, on the other side there will be a need to confront these problems head on. For me, the most pressing of these will continue to be the scourge of homelessness, and in particular youth homelessness.

For the past several months and into the present we have relied on the moratorium on eviction to keep people in their home, enhanced unemployment benefits to make sure people have enough money to pay their mortgages or rent, expanded food waivers to allow for schools to feed more kids without regard for financial status or bureaucratic processes, payroll protection to keep folks employed even as business went into lockdown, and now a host of grants to support businesses, nonprofits, and individuals. These measures have without a doubt kept us all from falling off the cliff. But these programs are now coming to an end, and even though the economy is slowly returning, it will be a long time, perhaps years, until it returns to its previous level of vibrancy. In the meantime, there will be more poor, more unemployed and underemployed, and more homeless.

Because of this I would say that now is the time for us to band together to work on solutions which are permanent. In our community these solutions could include any number of actions including creating a host homes program for homeless youth, building a homeless youth drop in center to connect young people to resources, supporting the ending youth homelessness fund to ensure that young people have the resources they need to break the cycle of poverty, or getting involved with one of our communities transitional housing programs like Marguerite’s Place, Family Promise, or the Front Door Agency.

This summer and fall there are many ways for you to get involved in being part of the solution. You can become involved as a volunteer, participate in our skydiving event to support the ending youth homelessness fund, or join us at United We Sleep to learn about programs or resources. You can also join the Continuum of Care, which is a broad community collaboration geared toward ending homelessness. Its chair, Michael Reinke, is the Executive Director at the Nashua Soup Kitchen and I’m sure he would welcome the support. And if youth homelessness is your passion, then you can join the Youth Subcommittee, which I chair.

As you can see, there are many ways to get involved and make a difference. If I have learned anything from the past few months, it is that collectively we can pull together and move mountains. There are no problems too large for us to solve if we work together. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact me at United Way and we will make sure your talents are harnessed for the betterment of Greater Nashua, because Great Things Happen when we LIVE UNITED.

Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua, and on August 22nd he is jumping out of a plane to help put an end to youth homelessness.