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Manchester needs a unified plan to functionally end homelessness

A mayoral candidate who is an alderman in Ward 2 says homelessness in Manchester is a humanitarian crisis — and should be treated as such

A homeless person in Veteran’s Memorial Park on April 22, 2023, in Manchester, N.H.Andrew Burke-Stevenson/Andrew Burke-Stevenson for The Boston Globe

“Band-aids on a dam.”

That’s how one former nonprofit employee in the city described the various efforts to address Manchester’s homelessness crisis.

There are a lot of organizations — government, nonprofit, and faith-based — doing a lot of good and needed work to meet the immediate needs of those living on our streets. One thing that’s missing in this work, however, is a unified goal and coordinated plan. That’s something that those working on the frontlines of this issue — to say nothing of Manchester’s residents and business owners — deserve.

Government can’t solve all problems by itself, nor should it, but it can and should lead on our most important issues. And when it comes to addressing homelessness in Manchester, that leadership must come from the mayor’s office — and action should follow. It’s true that Manchester is a hub for homeless services, and that means folks from around the state are here in our city, in need of help. But we can’t afford to wait for Concord to take responsibility. Homelessness in Manchester is a humanitarian crisis and should be treated as such, not as a political squabble between the mayor and the governor.

So let me say now: our goal as a city should be the functional end of homelessness. That is to say that homelessness should be rare, brief, and nonrecurring.


This is not to say that achieving this goal will be easy. If it was, it would have been done by now. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It will, however, require a different approach. We need to:

  • Align efforts. We need to enhance and better align the efforts of existing collaborations between homelessness programs operating in the city by consistently bringing them to the same table, identifying shared measures of success, and incentivizing better collaboration;
  • Enlist more partners, including the business community and additional faith-based partners, to be part of the solution;
  • Share and evaluate data. We need to enhance the existing Homeless Management Information System database of all homeless individuals by incentivizing homelessness programs that do not receive U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding to share, in real time, their data to enable coordinated communication, case management, and customized solutions/wrap-around services for each affected individual based on their unique needs; and
  • Go upstream. We can’t continue to put band-aids on the problem. We must also work further upstream to prevent people from falling into homelessness in the first place. This means addressing the interconnected factors that contribute to homelessness — housing, poverty, mental health, substance abuse, education, employment readiness, and lack of family and social connections.

Functionally ending homelessness is not something that will be achieved overnight, nor is it something that can be done effectively without resources. Incentivizing the construction of affordable housing, providing case management and wrap-around services, employing street outreach teams and other front line staff, providing mental, behavioral, and physical health services — these all require money.


In the end, funding these services on the front end is less expensive — in both financial and moral terms — than the cost of not investing in these services. But still, the money has to come from somewhere and Manchester taxpayers can only afford so much.

To provide the up-front funds needed to make a real impact, Manchester should look at the Pay for Success program operated by Social Finance, a Boston-based nonprofit that mobilizes capital to address pressing social issues.

In short, Social Finance identifies socially minded investors who provide a government entity up-front cash to pay for an intervention addressing a social issue like homelessness. The financing is outcomes-based, however, and the investors are only paid back with a modest return by the government entity if and when the intervention achieves certain pre-determined and agreed upon outcomes. That is, it pays for success.

I believe that Manchester, through long-term planning, goal setting, coalition building, and real accountability, can set the standard for addressing homelessness in this country.

Not only do I want to functionally end homelessness here, 20 years from now I want communities across America looking at the Manchester model and say, “This is how you do it.” This is how you do it while still respecting the needs of residents and taxpayers, this is how you do it while still affording basic dignity to those who don’t have homes or struggle with substance use and mental health, and this is how you do it when you work with a broad, multi-faceted coalition of voices by working collaboratively with them to agree on, and work toward, a common long-term goal.


Will Stewart is a candidate for Mayor of Manchester and serves as Alderman for Ward 2.