MANCHESTER, NH – I met Bill Howard three years ago this past November. He was living between the shelter, hotels and a doorway outside an abandoned storefront on Elm Street next to my office space. This is a photo I took of him that day.
I handed him my business card and told him to keep in touch. Surprisingly, he did.
“I fall into a big crack of 50-year-old men who aren’t addicted to anything. Maybe if I had an addiction problem I could get more help. Something has to happen in this city to create more housing, transitional housing for those moving out of the shelter,” Bill said.
I asked him what’s needed to make a difference.
Financial accountability and a work component. Even those who, like him, can’t work could volunteer to make sure the system in place is working self-perpetuating, Bill said.
Bill was getting $600 a month for his disability, which was COPD. He had just turned 59, and was hoping to get into an apartment run by Families in Transition on Douglas Street. He shared an eviction letter he got from the shelter on Dec. 26 stating that they felt he had the resources he needed to find a place to live, but he could still use the pantry, etc. He was to be out by Jan. 10, 2019.
He told me there were no affordable housing units available for a guy like him, one who has had some ups and downs with paying rent on time over the years or instantaneous eviction if late. Even rooming houses were a tough find, and those available not the most desirable places to call home.
Bill said after a year of trying to get housing with the help of a caseworker, he couldn’t believe he was being kicked out of the shelter. He stuck to his guns and pushed back. “I told [my case manager] I was talking to a journalist,” he told me. Not sure if that was the magic bullet that worked, but Bill not only got to stay on, he landed a small apartment in a complex run by FIT on Douglas Street with a common kitchen and living room.
In March he reached out to say he was feeling disconnected. His whole life had been on the East Side of the river. Now he was tucked away on the West Side, and so I sent him some information about the senior center and some other places he might visit.
“It’s different having a place and not being busy as I was on the East Side. I would always have something to do. I guess it’s time to take it easy now,” he wrote to me in a text message. “Now I need to start over, fresh start. Unfortunately, I had to put all my money to be where I’m at, only a few weeks to struggle penniless, then payday SSDI time, shopping, pay bills, finish getting what I need, etc.,” he wrote. “There are positive things to do but you need money. I can go to food pantries, which I do, but sometimes the weather makes it rougher to get to the East Side and carry back pantry food.”
We met up at the Dunkins on Granite Street on May 28, 2019. He looked different – thinner by a lot, but happy.
He told me that day over coffee and a donut that he wanted to live to be 100. He wanted to get a job at New Horizons and help others who struggle with the system, as he had. I pressed him about his health, and he told me he had been in the hospital for a short stint. He’d collapsed while visiting a friend and they rushed him to CMC where he spent some time before being discharged without a diagnosis.
We drove over to Douglas Street and he gave me the tour. He was proud of his new digs. He showed me his personal mailbox and told me that he’d scored a new TV when someone else moved out and left it behind. But he also seemed a little lonely, at loose ends, maybe. Bill was always a sociable guy.
I messaged him a few days later to tell him about a meeting being held at the Hilton on June 3 about homelessness, but never heard back. I tried texting him again September 12. Nothing.
Then I heard from a friend of his, Richard, that Bill had passed on Aug. 25. A memorial service was planned at 1269 Cafe on Sept. 25, so I attended. It was a nice tribute, and I learned a lot more about Bill’s life, pre-homelessness. That’s the part most of us miss out on. We see people at their worst and forget that they have been loved and part of our community under other circumstances. It’s their condition of homelessness that can too often be their legacy, the place of no return where they dwelled. That’s how it was for Bill, anyway.
A few months later I learned that Bill was among those people who would be remembered during the annual All Souls Day Mass at Mt. Calvary Chapel. I called Buddy Phaneuf of Phaneuf Funeral Homes who explained that they were contacted by the Medical Examiner’s office to take care of Bill’s remains. Families in Transition had tried to find his family members but in the end, his remains were unclaimed.
Homeless Persons Memorial Day 2021
Dec. 21 is the longest night of the year, the winter solstice. It is a date set aside by Catholic Medical Center as Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. For the fifth consecutive year, advocates, healthcare workers, members of the faith community and others will gather in the cold to remember those with no home.
I have carried Bill’s story with me for these three years. I think of him often as I cover the ongoing issue of homelessness in our city. He is one of those people who wanted help, and got it. But it seems the support he needed to transition back to independence was lacking. Maybe it’s nobody’s fault, but I would say that it’s a piece of the puzzle that is missing from our process, and one that needs to be addressed.
I am glad I got to know him, and his life story. But I am sorry that he didn’t make it on his own. He confided in me that it was hard to manage his finances. He needed more support than he was getting, a rotating cast of caseworkers and nobody to reign him in after living homeless for so long; it’s like he’d forgotten how to manage his money and his life.
I am writing this now because we need to fix whatever it is that’s broken about our system. This is the right day to make it known that every single homeless person living in our city deserves to be seen and heard, and have a shot at whatever a “fresh start” looks like for them.
In addition to CMC’s Health Care for the Homeless, other organizations will be participating in the Dec. 21 remembrance: FIT-NH, Hope for NH Recovery, The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, and the NH Coalition to End Homelessness are leading this tribute to the homeless and formerly homeless. They will read off 38 names of those in Manchester who died in 202 (first names only, as listed below). Luminaries to those men and women will be lit in Veteran’s Park. Similar ceremonies are happening on this day across the state and nation.
Participants are encouraged to dress appropriately and bring a battery-operated candle (a limited number will be provided). The program should last about 20 minutes. People will gather at 6 p.m. at Veterans Park on Elm Street.
Homeless individuals who died in 2021.
On Nov. 2, 2021, Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium in collaboration with Mt. Calvary Cemetery offered a “home” for unclaimed cremated remains. A public mass to honor and accept the unclaimed remains took place Nov. 2, 2021 at Mt. Calvary Chapel, All Souls Day, commemorated by Roman Catholics as a time to pray for all the faithful departed.
Not all of those who are unclaimed in death were homeless.
According to Buddy Phaneuf, there are so many circumstances that over the years he’s encountered when it comes to trying to connect the unclaimed “shelf people,” whose remains go unclaimed, and their families. Covering the cost of cremation and laying them to rest in the mausoleum is shared by the city of Manchester and Phaneuf Family Foundation.
Phaneuf makes a concerted effort to contact family members to claim the remains, but there are circumstances where someone does not have a family member to pick up the remains or perhaps distant family members are not aware the remains exist.
Sometimes loved ones are so grief-stricken they cannot bring themselves to take the remains home, and they stay at the funeral home.
Unclaimed remains do not fall into any specific socioeconomic demographic or ethnic group. These are remains from babies, the elderly and all ages in between. They are from males and females of various backgrounds.
Legally, remains must be held for 30 days and then can be discarded as the funeral home sees fit. Phaneuf does not discard remains.
“We believe it is disrespectful to unceremoniously dispose of the remains of a once-vibrant individual,” Phaneuf said. “We don’t pass judgment on why remains go unclaimed.”
The names, hometowns (if known), and years of birth and death of those whose memories were honored in 2021 are listed below.
- GEORGE PANAGOULIS, date of birth: 10/25/1936, date of death: 6/25/2020, city of residence: Nashua
- FRANCIS BRAULT, DOB: 12/13/1944, DOD: 1/3/2021, Hanover
- HELEN ST. ARMAND, DOB: 5/11/1960, DOD: 1/22/2021, Concord
- LORRAINE BOUTIN, DOB: 8/1/1930, DOD: 6/7/2020, Goffstown
- RICHARD HUNTER, DOB: 6/19/1965, DOD: 4/1/2021, Hinsdale
- GEORGE DERY, DOB: 11/27/1968, DOD: 2/13/2021, Manchester
- ROBERT RYAN, DOB: 9/17/1956, DOD: 11/5/2020, Manchester
- BHULABHAI PATEL, DOB: 1/12/1940, DOD: 5/2/2021, Malden, MA
- RAYMOND CORMIER, DOB: 3/18/1951, DOD: 2/12/2021, White River Junction, VA
- PAUL GROCHOWIK, DOB: 10/23/1958, DOD: 9/30/2020, Newport
- DEAN LEGENDRE, DOB: 7/22/1956, DOD: 7/13/2020, Manchester
- KENNETH SILVER, DOB: 7/6/1939, DOD: 3/13/2021, Franklin
- BRENDA QUINLAN, DOB: 5/6/1948, DOD: 5/7/2020, Derry
- KENNETH STROUT, DOB: 1/12/1942, DOD: 1/11/2021, Manchester
- PATRICK O’BRIEN, DOB: 4/15/1956, DOD: 8/30/2020, Rochester
- YVETTE CORRIVEAU, DOB: 7/3/1931, DOD: 11/2/2020, Nashua
- RICHARD RAU: DOB: 10/10/1942, DOD: 12/30/2020, Concord
- MARGARET MCNEIL, DOB: 4/30/1939, DOD: 9/30/2020, Manchester
- KATHLEEN CARON, DOB: 8/8/1961, DOD 8/29/2020, Manchester
- SASIKUMAR VIJAYAKUMAR, DOB: 11/2/1979, DOD: 9/25/2021, North Andover, MA