Homeless Persons Memorial Observed in 11 NH Communities

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Arnie Alpert photo

Dozens of people huddled in the cold on City Plaza in downtown Concord Thursday night to remember New Hampshire's homeless persons who died in the past year.

By ARNIE ALPERT, Active with the Activists

Arnie Alpert spent decades as a community organizer/educator in NH movements for social justice and peace.  Officially retired since 2020, he keeps his hands (and feet) in the activist world while writing about past and present social movements. 

On the longest night of the year, dozens of people huddled in the cold on City Plaza in downtown Concord Thursday to remember New Hampshire residents who died in the past year, their lives shortened by homelessness. 

 At the vigil, volunteers read a list of their names, in some cases just a first name with a last initial.  For others, participants learned a bit about their lives, their families, and their personalities. 

It was Homeless Persons Memorial Day, observed nationwide, and this year coinciding with a growing awareness of the crisis faced by increasing numbers of people who cannot find a safe, secure, and affordable place to call home.  In addition to Concord, observances took place in Dover, Keene, Laconia, Lancaster, Lebanon, Nashua, Newport, Peterborough, Portsmouth, and two in Manchester, each one locally organized.

The memorials remembered individuals such as Ashly L, who “lived her life on her terms. She was adventurous, loved to travel, had ambition to try new things and always make something out of nothing. She was very smart, sassy, silly and excelled at everything she put the slightest effort into.”  Brian “Manny” Mansfield was “a very nice man who was always trying to help others before himself. He lived in Lebanon for many years and worked for Harley Davidson as a mechanic before he became ill and was unhoused.”   

There was Justin Francois and Justin Smith, Robert A and Robert M, Jimi B and Jodi M, 90 in all.  With each name, a chime rang out and a volunteer placed a battery-powered candle on a table.  It went on for some time until all the names were read, 90 chimes rung, and 90 candles set on the table, lighting up the faces of those who stood nearby.

Maggie Fogarty of the American Friends Service Committee said that every November she starts a list of names and stories of homeless and formerly homeless people who have died in the past year.  “Gathering the names involves reaching out to a statewide network of homeless service providers, outreach workers, activists, faith community members, health care centers and community leaders,” she said.

“This memorial falls during such a hectic time of the year, as people wrap up work and prepare for the holidays and vacation, but it always feels very important to make the time, to carve out a quiet and reverential space to remember together that we’ve lost community members to homelessness. Each person on our list deserves that we hear their names and remind ourselves of the terrible cost of homelessness, poverty, and economic injustice,” Fogarty said.  “Each one of these people was loved by someone; they were whole people, with families and hobbies and jobs and dreams.”

In his annual proclamation for the observance, Governor Chris Sununu said, “We honor and remember those who have lost their lives, and encourage all stakeholders to remain committed to helping our local communities in making sure that our citizens have the fundamental safety and security of a home.” 

Every one of the people who were memorialized had a story, even if we didn’t know it.  But every one of their deaths ought to serve as a reminder of a deep-seated social problem, not just of a large set of personal tragedies.

According to the NH Coalition to End Homelessness, which two weeks ago released its annual report on “The State of Homelessness in New Hampshire,” the number of people who experienced homelessness jumped 32% from 2021 to 2022.  Chronic homelessness, which refers to people who have been continuously homeless for a year or who have experienced at least 4 episodes of lengthy homelessness over the past three years, is also on the rise.

Along with a drop in assistance following the end of the COVID pandemic, the report identifies the state’s lack of affordable housing as a key reason so many people are without secure housing.  With vacancy rates for rental housing below 0.5% and rents rising faster than wages, “the housing stock that is available is financially out of reach for many Granite Staters,” the Coalition said.

The crisis has gotten severe enough to attract significant attention in political circles, for example in the recent campaign for mayor of Manchester.  In the coming year, the state legislature will consider numerous housing-related bills, including ones to invest more funds in emergency assistance and affordable housing, two proposed study commissions, and one which would facilitate the use of surplus state property for housing developed by nonprofit organizations.  

On the night of the winter solstice as the sky grew dark and the air grew colder, caring communities paused to remember Amanda Hartness, Anthony Petricca, Ashley Krauss, Ashly L , Barbara Bruce, Brian Horlick, Brian “Manny” Mansfield, Bruce Batchelder, Carlos Martinez Oquendo, Charles F, Cheryl Larocque, Chris DeGraffe, Chris Upham, Christina Laroe, Christopher Roy, Craig Ainsworth, Crystal D, Crystal C, David Bertrand, David G , Doreen Barberian, Douglass B, Douglas T, Eleanor Sorel, Heather Behnken, Heather C, Heidi Horne, Henry Rocha, James Lilly, James Marion Russo, Jeanine Ralalanirina, Jeffrey Heeter, Jeffrey Howard, Jerome Gionet, Jessica Cook, Jimi B, Jodi M, John Dupay, John W, Johnny O’Brien, Jonathan Egan, Joni Modtland, Joseph Fields, June Fuller, Justin Francois, Justin Smith, Katie Kelley, Kevin Armino, Kevin Bilodeau, Kim L, Laurel B, Marc Cincotta, Marc Krajewski, Mark F, Mathew W, Matt Gabel, Michael Kirwin, Michael Kopka, Michael Vigneault, Michale Laduke, Jr., Michelle Boyd, Milton Simonds, Nancy Stimans, Nick Schaeffer, Nimiari Sarour, Paul Burkhardt, Paul Gingues, Peter Lachepelle, Rae Quinn B (“Rae”), Raymond Nolan, Rick Stone, Robert A, Robert M, Robert Ross, Robert Stinson, Robert Wisted, Robin Lane, Rushetta Foreman, Ryan Smith, Scott S, Scott Trudeau, Shane Lurvey, Shawn Barton, Shelby Weston, Shelly Durant, Sterling Daniel Swortfiguer, Steven LaRosa, Tricia W, Walter McDow, and William (Bill) Millardo.

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