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With a new director, Southern New Hampshire Rescue Mission continues work with homeless

NASHUA – Officials at the Southern New Hampshire Rescue Mission continue to serve those who find themselves homeless in Nashua by helping them rebuild their lives through making positive change and good decisions.

Lloyd Curtis, who assumed the role of executive director in January, spoke about the 40 Chestnut St. facility and the programs offered there during a recent interview with The Telegraph. Officials work with homeless men throughout Nashua on both a daily basis, as well as through their work and life programs.

The shelter provides free meals to those in the community in need, with breakfast daily. There are lunches at noon on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as dinners at 5 p.m. on the weekends.

As a shelter, the mission has 30 beds for use by men, 12 of which are reserved for those in the work program or the 12-month life change program. The other 18 are used for those in emergency circumstances. Shelter officials can also set up supplementary beds until the facility reaches capacity.

Offering both the work program and the life change program, Curtis said the mission’s goal is to get members of the homeless community back on their feet, either by way of finding employment immediately, or by teaching them the skills they need through an extended stay, during which they are taught responsibility, scheduling and time management.

“The idea is to teach them the soft skills they’re going to need when the leave us,” Curtis said about the organization’s 12-month life change program, through which those who commit to making changes with the mission spend a year learning how to make positive choices prior to entering a work program.

While not everyone who utilizes the shelter enters the program right away, Curtis said many familiar faces return for either meals or a place to sleep. Often after becoming accustomed to the shelter, they choose to join a program.

Some of those who join the program come to the mission when they have nowhere else to turn, Curtis said. After having burned bridges, and having nowhere else to go, they come with only what they can carry in hopes of a better future.

“A lot of the guys who come through those doors, they literally come with the clothes on their back, hungry, not knowing where they’re going to sleep tonight,” Curtis said. “Prayerfully, it’s a better option than the woods, or a bench, or a car, or a library, so they come in really in desperate situations. We look to provide them with hope and purpose.”

Many of those looking to make a change come to the shelter with any number of other problems, including mental health disorders, domestic abuse history and addiction.

“A lot of them are not aware of what this town has to offer,” Curtis said. “There are a lot of services available to veterans, folks with mental health needs, folks with addiction.”

One member of the community who got the help he needed through the mission, Jason O’Doherty, said after he hurt his back and ended up homeless, he became addicted to alcohol. He turned to Curtis and was able to turn his life around. O’Doherty cited everything from the programs, to the flowers out front, as signs of positivity at the shelter.

“I became homeless. I got injured – I hurt my back – I was living in the streets,” said O’Doherty, who now is an assistant manager at a local restaurant and supporting himself.

“I’m not 100% – nobody is ever going to get there,” he added, citing Curtis and the mission as the key factor to why he’s been able to get where he is. “But you know, I’ve got my own place – I’ve got a full-time job.”

Having served as a volunteer and a member of the board of directors, Curtis spent the prior 31 years in the secular world as a project manager, business analyst and software developer. He said he has learned a lot in the seven months as the director of the shelter.

“It certainly teaches you humility. It teaches you that there is definitely something bigger than yourself,” Curtis said. “There is a great reward in serving God, serving Christ and honoring him with our lives.

“I have found this has been probably the most rewarding time in my life,” he added.

Even with all the shelters available throughout the city, be it at the mission, the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter, or elsewhere, Curtis said in his eyes, the city still is not meeting the needs of the homeless, particularly during the winter months.

“For me, just what I see, we’re not meeting the need. There are more homeless men out there on every given night that we are not catering to,” he said. “The soup kitchen is usually full. We are usually full and we are still getting calls from folks for variety of different resources in Nashua.”

In order for the full impact to be realized by members of the community, Curtis believes those who come and see what the mission offers and does in person have a better understanding of what their goal is. He invited members of the community to come and see for themselves by stopping by, volunteering and getting involved.

“It’s the awareness – come out to the mission. Come see us – come see what we do,” Curtis said. “I think that’s when hearts are changed.”

“What I’ve found out is that when businesses and other folks come out and meet with me at the facility and see what we do, and the community that we’re ministering to, their heart changes,” Curtis continued.

While the mission is always in need of monetary donations in order to run the facility and the programs, there is also a need for those who have the skills to help complete tasks, including maintenance and repairs.

“I need contractors to help me build decks; I need people to help me repair heating systems; I need people to help me in a variety of different things,” Curtis said. “You know, the hot water heater breaks and the toilet gets clogged and the kitchen sink won’t work.”

“I need those kind of skills; I need those kinds of volunteers; I need donations,” he added.

While the mission caters exclusively to men, Curtis said officials have hopes of expanding their services to women in the future.

“We are currently soliciting donations for a women’s homeless shelter. There is no emergency women’s shelter in Nashua,” he said. “There are transitional housing opportunities for women. We still get phone calls from women and if it’s 10 degrees below zero and they don’t have a place to stay and we can’t house them in our facility.”

As the mission moves forward, Curtis and other officials will continue their work, helping those in the community looking for a place to go and a way to better their lives.

Mathew Plamondon can be reached at 594-1244, or at mplamondon@nashuatelegraph.com, @telegraph_MatP.