As pandemic and poverty persist, so does Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter

The nation is hurting as a whole. Our trust has been broken, lives have been shattered, and our nerves are raw. Even before the coronavirus hit our shores, homelessness and food insecurity was proving to be a fierce adversary. As COVID-19 continues to ravage our communities, the ever-changing and developing effects of the health and economic crises we face on a daily basis make it impossible to determine the full impact with statistical clarity. All that we can do is assume, and rightfully so, that the pandemic has made things much, much worse.

According to the National Alliance To End Homelessness (endhomelessness.org), 17 out of every 10,000 individuals were experiencing homelessness on a single night in America in January of 2019. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot. Here’s another number: 567,715. That’s how many people were without a place to call “home” on any given night in the first month of 2019. 396,045 of them were individual adults; 171,670 were people experiencing homelessness with their families; 96,141 were chronically homeless; 37,085 were military veterans; 35,038 were unaccompanied children.

Maybe by this time next year, we might know the numbers that communicate all the ways that the coronavirus impacted our homeless population in 2020 and 2021. For now, though, we turn our focus to today’s fight to mend the damage done by our broken economy and other struggles that at-risk adults and youth face right here in Nashua.

Multiple nonprofit agencies in Nashua and surrounding communities are fighting homelessness and food insecurity every day, and the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter has been leading the way since 1981, with meals and groceries provided through the food pantry since 1984.

The pandemic has had an immense effect on the homeless population in Nashua, and in turn, has had an effect on the ways that the NSKS can assist- yet they continue to make an impact every day. At the time of the writing of this article, the shelter at 58 Ash Street, which can accommodate 14 single men and 5 single women, was closed for a deep cleaning, and the temporary shelter at 35 Spring Street, where construction continues for a slated opening in June 2022 of the new, expanded shelter, is available to accommodate 14 single men and 14 single women. A facility at 29 Kinsley Street provides emergency shelter for 5 families. The day center at 2 Quincy St. is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The food pantry is open from noon to 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and meals are provided at the soup kitchen Monday through Friday at 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mobile pantries are scheduled during the winter months, and more will be added as spring arrives. All facilities operate on a first-come-first-serve basis, and anyone with questions or a need to check availability of any service can call 603-889-7770.

The new, permanent home of the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter will be within the walls of the former Sacred Heart School at 35 Spring St. With considerably more space, NSKS will be able to provide expanded availability to those in need. The school is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese, and is leased to the NSKS. The shelter itself will accommodate, as mentioned previously, 14 men and 14 women, as it does now in the temporary setup. Beds are and will be appropriately spaced apart, and UV lights are set up to mitigate the spread of the virus. All people entering the building and shelter space are required to maintain social distance and must wear masks; those who do not have one will be provided one, and hand sanitizer is available throughout.

As mentioned, construction is underway on Spring Street, but fundraising continues in order to assure that the work goes unhindered. Executive Director of the NSKS, Michael Reinke, emphasises that “we need significant local support for this project”, and that “there are NH tax credits for businesses who are able to make a donation.” The tax credit form can be found at https://nhcdfa.org/investing-in-nh-communities/tax-credit-program/.

To assume that poor life decisions are the only reason why a person might find themselves without a roof over their head is not only ignorant, it is dangerous. As long as society continues to hold this belief, we slow the momentum of the mission and all efforts to end homelessness across the nation. Mental illness and medical emergencies, the effects of which are worsened by our federal government’s indignant lack of interest in broadening access to healthcare, are undeniable mitigating factors. Additionally, the percentage of our population that lives just one financially damaging incident away from homelessness is ever-expanding due to the pandemic’s crippling effect on our economy. Domestic violence, sexual assault, job scarcity, and families turning their backs on LGBTQI+ folx, especially youth, are among the many other causes of individuals and families finding themselves without a place to call home.

Food and shelter are the immediate concerns that a person faces when they find themselves homeless, and remain as such every day, demanding their focus, barely allowing for attention to be given to other efforts, such as education, employment and hygienic needs. The NSKS provides food and shelter, but it also does so much more. Their mission is not just to alleviate the daily struggles that our homeless neighbors experience, but to help them work towards ending their homelessness.

Education and employment assistance is available at the NSKS. Homeless individuals and those who are facing housing insecurity due to lack of employment can meet with an advocate who specializes in determining opportunities by assessing strengths and weaknesses in order to map out steps to gaining achievement and self-reliance. The advocate then provides guidance in preparing to search for employment. Steps here include obtaining ID, revising or preparing resumes, and coaching on demeanor and attire for interviews. Homeless individuals taking part in this program are eligible for financial assistance in obtaining proper ID’s, as well as assistance in identifying educational opportunities that will improve their employment prospects. Transportation support is available via bus vouchers for trips to and from attempts to obtain employment for eligible clients while they are able to provide identification of their goals and progress. When available, donated bicycles are given to those in need under the same circumstances. Also subject to availability and grant funds, eligible clients may be able to receive work-related supplies to help them secure and retain employment, such as attire (gloves, footwear, etc.), tools, software, computer supplies, and more.

Some financial assistance is available in cases of emergencies in order to prevent homelessness, as well as assistance in qualifying for housing subsidies and welfare benefits, mediation and negotiation assistance between individuals and landlords, and the receiving of referrals to counseling, 12-step programs and parenting classes.

Personal hygiene is important for everyone, but the need among the homeless and those facing financial crisis is tenfold. The Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter provides toiletry bags to those in need based on availability of items. Individuals and families can request them once a month without need of identification or fear of discrimination. Toothbrushes and toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, diapers, baby wipes, razors and shaving cream, deodorant and shampoo and conditioner are all basic items that you can consider for your next donation. Diapers can be requested Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., as can toiletry bags. Showers and laundry are available to unsheltered persons Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. No appointment is necessary, and no ID is required.

During the winter holiday season, food boxes and turkeys are distributed to over 1,900 individuals and families in Nashua to ensure that they do not go without holiday meals. Children receive holiday items, including gifts donated by their community, as well as cakes for their birthdays throughout the year. Families are given holiday treats to enjoy together, as well as baskets with household and cleaning supplies.

In addition to the typical food items that the Pantry accepts year-round, donators are encouraged to consider foods and ingredients used by our culturally diverse neighbors who are in need. Specific items can be found listed in visual format within a Facebook post from January 5 by the NSKS here: https://www.facebook.com/NSKandS/posts/10158031318796242.

A small library exists in the dining room at the shelter, and donated books and magazines are available for reading and for taking, free of charge, for all individuals, and books are distributed to children regularly, both for leisure and for school needs. Yearly school supply distributions that include backpacks occur in order to make sure that students who are experiencing the effects of financial hardship and even homelessness are starting their school year off in step with their peers who are not, and assures them that they and their education matter to their community.

A very impactful mission, which the NSKS calls Women Helping Women, consists of different programs designed to ensure that women staying in the shelter have basic items in their possession that they would otherwise go without. Items range from new underwear and socks to tampons and pads, makeup, and beauty products. Feminine hygiene and self care is just as important, if not more important, for women who are experiencing homelessness, and every donation received of this nature is greatly appreciated.

The NSKS regularly hosts organizations and entities such as Nashua Public Health, Rivier University, UNH Cooperative Extension and Lamprey Health Care, among others, in order to make their services available to the community in need. These services include life-changing and life-saving medical care and evaluations such as HIV testing, vaccines for the flu and other viruses, blood pressure and diabetes testing, nutrition and even cooking classes, and so much more.

The mission of the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter, and surely that of every shelter and pantry across the nation, is not to appease homelessness and food insecurity, but to eventually end it. These efforts are not about handouts and enabling, but about supporting those in need, helping them find a path to sustainability and independence, and in doing so, achieving greatness.

To make any kind of donation great or small to a neighbor in need, please call NSKS at 603-889-7770. To learn more about these programs, drives, fundraiser events, and so much more, please visit nsks.org.