A vigil for 27 who died while homeless, and an update on addition of shelter beds at New Horizons

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Maria Devlin, President and CEO FIT-NH, emceed a brief ceremony remembering the homeless who died in 2020./Pat Grossmith Photo

MANCHESTER, NH – Last year, nearly 1,400 people experienced homelessness on any given day in New Hampshire, according to the Continuum Care to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.

Sixty of them died, not necessarily on the street as in the case of Gary Silver, 64, who died Nov. 30 after a propane tank exploded in his tent in the woods off Willow Street.

Still, 27 of those 60 people were individuals residing in Manchester, all with no permanent homes at the time of their deaths.

On Monday, city officials and those who work daily with the homeless gathered at the New Horizons/Families in Transition Shelter, 199 Manchester St., to remember these individuals on the 30th anniversary of the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.

Homeless Memorial Day Vigil 2020.

The day traditionally is celebrated on Dec. 21, the longest night of the year which marks the winter solstice.

Catholic Medical Center, which operates Health Care for the Homeless clinic based at the shelter, each year holds a ceremony in Veterans Park.  However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year a virtual candlelight memorial for homeless was held instead.  It can be viewed below: 

During the ceremony,  advocates, healthcare workers, friends and members of the faith community paid tribute to those 27 Manchester individuals.

Mayor Joyce Craig, as she did at Monday’s ceremony at the shelter, read a resolution declaring Monday in Manchester as Homeless Persons Memorial Day.

A lone worker is preparing the floor for a coat of paint, one of the final steps before 43 to 45 beds open for use by the city’s homeless at the New Horizons/Families in Transition shelter at 199 Manchester St. The 5,000 square foot area formerly housed the food pantry which was relocated to a site on Lake Avenue./Photo by Pat Grossmith

Those gathered at the shelter also celebrated the conversion of the food pantry into an area that by Dec. 30 should provide 43 to 45 additional beds, all socially distanced, for those unsheltered individuals needing and wanting them.  The pantry has been relocated to a property at the corner of Lake Avenue and Pine Street.

Maria Devlin, President & CEO Families in Transition/New Horizons, said the renovations and relocation cost a total of $2.7 million, funds allocated through the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery.

At the beginning of the pandemic, a couple of people in the shelter contracted the virus.  As a result, steps were taken to allow for social distancing, which drastically reduced the number of beds available.

In the ensuing months, the shelter experienced no additional viruses.  Now, with winter here, advocates scrambled to find beds for the vulnerable population.

Both Craig and Devlin said with the 45 extra beds, along with emergency beds available at the 1269 Café, 351 Chestnut St. (the former Manchester Police Department) and the William C. Cashin Senior Center on the West Side, there should be enough beds for the city’s 157 homeless people this winter

Fire Chief Daniel Goonan said the number of homeless in the city fluctuates.  He explained that the emergency shelters open only when the temperature or wind chill is zero.  So far this winter, that only happened once, early in the morning which did not warrant opening the emergency shelters.

By Dec. 30, 43 to 45 beds, all socially distanced, will be available for Manchester’s homeless. The former food pantry, located at the New Horizons/Families in Transition shelter at 199 Manchester St., was renovated to provide beds to meet the housing needs of the city’s homeless. The 5,000 square foot conversion, along with the relocation of the food pantry to a Lake Avenue and Pine Street site, cost $2.7 million funds allocated through GOFERR./Photo by Pat Grossmith

Teams of firefighters, mental health and medical workers continue to reach out to people staying at one of the 36 homeless encampments across the city.  Goonan said they have gotten to know the population well and on those extremely bitter cold days are usually able to coax them to come to the shelters.

The fire chief also said that those the state removed from property abutting the Hillsborough County Superior Courthouse Northern District are starting to return.  In November, about 50 people, who erected tents on either side of the courthouse on state-owned property, were evicted by state troopers.

About 20 found beds either at shelter or treatment facilities but others scattered across the city.  Outreach teams were able to contact all of them, Goonan said, and continue to help them connect with services.

On Dec. 21 Mayor Craig, Maria Devlin and Chief Goonan participated in a Q&A via Facebook live to respond to questions about the city’s efforts to address the city’s unhoused population. You can view the session below:



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Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.