- Associated Press - Monday, December 24, 2018

FRANCONIA, N.H. (AP) - Rain, mud, a swollen river behind them, close to overtopping its banks.

For many, far from ideal sleeping conditions.

But for more than a dozen community members, forgoing the comfort of their own beds to sleep in tents or cardboard boxes to spend the night on Dow Field was an essential form of community service.

Friday marked the fourth consecutive year of the Longest Night, a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. sleep-out on Dow Field each Dec. 21 - the winter solstice and longest night of the year - to bring attention to the plight of homelessness and raise money for the Bancroft House so it can continue to take in those need.

Nearly half a decade on, the event is accomplishing its mission, said Bob Gorgone, director of the Bancroft House.

“It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year, that’s for sure,” he said.

The founder of the Longest Night, Kevin Johnson, owner of the Gale River Motel and treasurer of the Bancroft House, said, “It’s doing its job to keep people aware of the issue.”

Joining the group for 2018 were five Lisbon Junior National Honor Society students - Lisbon Regional School eighth-grader Tori Jellison and freshmen Hannah Keeler, Kendal Clark, Abigail Mahoney, and Kiley Hill.

Many people think homelessness is a problem of bigger cities, but the problem is also here, in the North Country, and it can be overlooked, said Mahoney.

Compared to more urban places and cities that have a large share of single people who are homeless, those without permanent homes in the North Country tend to be families with young children, and their problems can be compounded by lack of services and transportation, said Johnson.

Joining the Lisbon students were two of their teachers, Kaitie Hart, K-12 music instructor, who marked her third time participating in the Longest Night, and Julia Bisbee, fifth-grade special education teacher.

Last year, 15 honor society students raised more than $1,500 for the Bancroft House.

Although there were only five honor society students this year, they raised about $400, and also launched gofundme.com campaigns to raise more money after Friday’s event, said Hart.

On the students spending 12 hours on Dow Field, Bisbee said,”They were thrilled to do it, even in the rain.”

In the nick of time for the campers this year, which saw an unusual winter solstice with its heavy rains, was a new roof installed this week on the Dow Field Pavilion.

“The town of Franconia was wonderful in getting that on for this weekend,” said Johnson.

A typical Longest Night draws about 20 participants (last year saw about 30) who support the Bancroft House and its mission.

Sponsors include Presby Construction, Mascoma Savings Bank, and Garnet Hill, Coldwell Banker Lin-Wood Realty, Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank, and the Gale River Motel.

This year, Subway provided sandwiches for the participants and in past years the Dutch Treat and Chef Joe’s Catering in Franconia have provided food.

“We have a lot of good, local support,” said Earl Duval, of Sugar Hill, who serves on the Bancroft House board of directors.

Donors raise money for the Bancroft House, and will sometimes raise it in the name of a group, such as veterans, said Gorgone.

The Longest Night event generates a large chunk of money for Bancroft House operations.

“We run on a shoestring budget,” said Johnson. “It’s about $45,000 a year. This usually raises between $6,000 and $8,000. By far, the house runs on private donations.”

The House And Its Mission

The Bancroft House was launched in 1982 to provide a secure, temporary home for women, children and families in northern New Hampshire.

The home at 104 Harvard St. has four bedrooms with private bathrooms that include three rooms for families and one for singles or a couple and has a community living area, a full kitchen with stocked pantry for preparing meals, washer and dryer, and a computer for its residents to use to search for jobs a home of their own.

The agreement with residents requires that they help with daily chores and maintenance and keep the house clean and guests are asked to contribute financially to the house upkeep if they can.

Being homeless is never easy, but in the North Country, if one can’t find shelter between residences during the region’s winters, it can be deadly.

Exactly how extensive homelessness is in the North Country region is hard to gauge - some might not want to acknowledge they have no fixed address or secure place to live - but the issue in the past few years is “at least the same, if not worse,” said Gorgone.

“We are fairly small and we are full just about all the time,” he said. “I get calls from people all the way from Massachusetts. We have enough of a problem right here.

The house is presently sheltering nine people, including two families of three.

People can become homeless through many ways, including losing a job or being between jobs, and being incapable of working because of a disability and something happens that requires them to leave their residence, said Gorgone.

“Maybe they didn’t have the money they needed due to hospitalization or they were in a place that was unhealthy for them, or the place they were in was sold from underneath them and they can’t live there anymore,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just getting away from a situation that’s not good.”

Just when one thinks they’ve heard all the stories that leave people without a home, there’s another that boggles the mind, said Johnson.

Gorgone recounted one situation that involved a mother and children from Nashua, who were in a dangerous home situation and had to leave.

In another instance, one woman had been camping in her car, but that became perilous when it began to get cold, he said.

“We also have situations where people are camping in the summer, but you need an address to get kids into the school,” he said. “August is one of our busier times when you have people who need an address so they can get their kids into school.”

The normal length of stay at the Bancroft House is 30 days, enough time for many to find a job and save money to afford their own place, but the house will allow people to stay up to three months, if needed, if they are actively working toward those goals, said Gorgone.

Tri-County Community Action, which has homeless outreach advocates, also sends people in need to the Bancroft House.

Inspiring the younger generation of North Country residents to become aware of homelessness and involved in helping those in need is paramount, said Johnson.

“It’s all about the young people,” he said. “If we can raise their awareness and get them involved, that’s another generation wanting to do good.”


Online: https://bit.ly/2T6GSQT


Information from: The Caledonian-Record, http://www.caledonianrecord.com

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