Jessica Parker introduced the speaker, Martha Stone, executive director of Crossroads House in Portsmouth. Martha joined the staff in 2004 as Development Director and headed up the capital campaign for the new facility on Lafayette Road. She was named Executive Director in 2013. Martha is very involved in the community and is on numerous local committees.
Martha thanked the Portsmouth Rotary Club for its support over the years. She also thanked our volunteers who have been cooking and serving meals there.
She began her presentation by outlining some of the challenges faced by Crossroads House. As one of the largest emergency homeless shelters in the state, Crossroads House is currently at full capacity. It serves about 110-120 men, women and children every night. When the Governor gave the order to shelter at home that was something the homeless didn’t have the option to do. In shelters, residents live mostly in a congregate situation.
Crossroads has taken numerous steps to make the environment safer, especially in terms of cleaning and putting up physical barriers. Another challenge is that some residents work, which, although a positive thing, means they come and go daily. This potentially exposes them and others to infection. Finally, staff made the difficult choice to “pull the plug” on volunteers who prepare and serve dinners seven days a week.
As far as financial ramifications are concerned, the most significant problem is loss of revenue. The major annual fundraiser, which is usually held in May, has been postponed to August 29th. This event represents $400,000 in operating income. Martha is working closely with the board to see if funds can be raised in other ways. She has also been talking with municipal, state and federal leaders. She deeply appreciates their interest in protecting this vulnerable population.
One of the most important solutions relates to “decompression.” For Crossroads House, this means physically spreading out the population so that there are less people in the shelter. The Governor recently ordered that short-term lodging could only be used to house vulnerable populations and health care workers. So far, Martha has been able to secure rooms in a local property. These go to  those who are most medically vulnerable and others still working. The shelter will rely on the state for an isolation quarantine location, if that becomes necessary.
There is some good news. The culinary staff of Portsmouth’s new A/C Hotel has generously offered to cook lunch and dinner full time for everyone at Crossroads. It’s a win-win situation that enables A/C to keep culinary staff working. The shelter is sharing their donated food with the hotel, helping to offset some of the costs. Volunteers pick- up and deliver these meals, either in bulk or individually to those living at the local hotel. Stonewall Kitchen Cafe in York is also generously providing shelter residents with daily breakfast meals.
Folks are discouraged from dropping off donations at the shelter. Instead, they are encouraged to use the Amazon Wish List for everyday needs like laundry pods, coffee, and OTC drugs. In regular times, the organization needs $1 million a year to operate. In the current pandemic, more funds are needed. There has been a bit of an uptick in donations for which Martha is very grateful. She and Jessica are also looking at several other funding sources in the coming days.
Martha’s hope is to come out of this crisis having kept the residents and the staff safe. Everyone is working hard to achieve this and stay ahead of the situation. She currently utilizes a reduced “crew,” all of whom have earned her praise and respect. Martha ended her presentation on a positive note. She says that some residents have been able to move out during this time of crisis. These events are always a cause for celebration at Crossroads House.
For those who want to help today, Martha suggests visiting the Crossroads website. Click on “Want to Help?”  There is a button to donate and you will also find The Amazon Wish List here. Another button helps you get on the volunteer list. Crossroads needs drivers for curb to curb food deliveries.
In answer to a question about testing, Martha said a couple of staff had been tested but these were false alarms. Senator Shaheen is aware of the need to have quick testing for staff and residents. Martha has also discussed with the Board a plan to deal with an outbreak as they don’t have a very “deep bench.”
Martha encouraged Rotarians to share to social media any information posted on the website. Jessica’s blogposts can also be shared. This is the link to the Amazon Wish List:
When asked if the shelter needs masks and gloves, Martha said volunteers have sewn masks for the residents and staff. She will be putting in a request to the state for PPE supplies. Susan Gold offered to supply masks from Seacoast Mask Makers. Martha thanked the organization and confirmed that they had already received 300 masks from them just last week.
Barb Miller wanted to know how many children were at the shelter and if they had any special needs. Martha said there were approximately 28 children right now. For the most part, they have what they need.
Jon Flagg mentioned that he was liquidating a retired dentist’s office and has boxes of Masks and gloves. Martha confirmed that Crossroads would gladly accept any extra gloves and masks.
Leo thanked Martha for her presentation and for everything she does for Crossroads House. He also assured her that Portsmouth Rotary was there to help in any way they could. As he closed the meeting, Leo reminded everyone of his challenge that each of us reach out to two fellow Rotarians today. There are those who may not have been able to join the meeting virtually. Others might have specific needs that we could help them with.
Concluding the meeting, Leo asked Jessica to lead  everyone in the 4-Way Test.
Respectfully submitted, Francoise Meissner
Photos by Don Chick