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MANCHESTER, NH – Families tied-up downtown traffic for a while Thursday evening, happily hand-in-hand and headed to SNHU Arena for a night of holiday music and Christian worship called “Christmas at the Arena.”
Meanwhile, a couple of blocks away in Veterans Park, a much smaller, more somber, and traffic-friendlier group gathered for a service honoring the 35 homeless and recently homeless people, who died here in 2018. (Incidentally, 35 people is about the capacity of one of the city transit system’s Gillig Low-Floor busses. In 2017, 52 homeless people died in Manchester.)
The memorial service, organized by Catholic Medical Center’s (CMC) Healthcare for the Homeless Program, attracted about two dozen mourners, including Alderman Tim Baines.
“We read these names not because of their deaths,” said Lauren Collins-Cline, spokesperson for CMC, in her remarks, “but in recognition of their lives.”
Luminaria – white paper bags illuminated from within by battery-powered tea candles – were lined up on the ground in front of the small group of speakers. Each luminaria bore a name of someone who had died in 2018:
These names were read aloud by members of the Healthcare for the Homeless team, several of whom choked up in the process. Following the ceremony, attendees were encouraged to take the luminaria home and keep them alight through the Dec. 21 solstice, which features the longest night of the year. This reporter carried home the bag representing Abigail. Abigail will be attending, in spirit, the annual Greene-Noiseux Yule Party this weekend.
The last names of the deceased were not printed on the luminara, nor were they offered as part of the reading.
Collins-Cline said the omission was made in the interest of sensitivity and privacy, and also, as CMC is a medical organization, releasing the names might construe a HIPAA violation. In proximity to the family event going on down the street, the absence of surnames in the service – names which represented the families of the deceased and likely their first homes – seemed a stark reminder of the anonymous isolation of homelessness.
The small service opened with a prayer and remarks by Marc Guillemette, director of Catholic Identity at CMC. Following was the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and remarks by Collins-Cline. Amy Pratte of CMC read a mayoral proclamation in honor of the dead, and calling Queen City citizens to support organizations working to end homelessness.
The event wrapped with the reading of names and the first verse of “Amazing Grace.” A similar event was held earlier in the day at Cafe 1269, a Christian outreach ministry on Chestnut Street.
The number of homeless people in New Hampshire did not rise in 2018, according to the annual “State of Homelessness in New Hampshire” report, but the number, about 1,450, remains a ten-percent increase from 2016. Meantime, the NH Department of Education reports a 13-percent increase since last year in the number of students identified as homeless. To read the entire report, click here.