MANCHESTER, NH – On the evening of the winter solstice–the longest night of the year—a gathering of over 60 city residents, activists, and outreach coordinators assembled under the Christmas tree in Veteran’s Park alongside a row of memorial luminarias.
Event attendee Brandon Lemay works as the Housing Justice Organizer for Rights and Democracy, an advocacy group focused on issues such as wages, housing, and healthcare. Lemay also ran for state representative in Ward 8 earlier this year. But for him, attendance at the vigil was deeply personal.
“Her name was Patricia McQuaid. She was a nurse, she had a job, she had her own house,” Lemay described of his late friend.
McQuaid, known as Tricia by her friends, was educated at the University of Massachusetts Boston prior to beginning her career as a nurse. She raised three sons and became a grandmother.
“Eventually, she was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that prevented her from being on her feet all day.”
As her disease progressed, McQuaid’s situation became more complicated. In 2014, she created a GoFundMe Page in hope of raising money for a ramp to make her home wheelchair accessible. She raised only $100. Not long afterward, one of her sons passed away unexpectedly.
“That really caused her to spiral down,” explained Lemay. McQuaid eventually had no choice but to move into a shelter.
“The entire time she was living in the New Horizons shelter, the wheelchair lift never worked,” said Lemay.
“She would call me a lot, saying, ‘I don’t want to die in this shelter.’ It broke my heart. There was really nothing we could do.”
In February of this year, still residing at the shelter, McQuaid passed away.
“Tonight, I’m thinking about her.”
The vigil was organized in partnership between Catholic Medical Center, the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, Families in Transition, Hope for NH Recovery, the NH Coalition to End Homelessness, and the city Health Department.
Tim Soucy, Vice President of Mission Integration at CMC and former Public Health Director for the city of Manchester, led the opening prayer, followed by a solemn performance of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by the Grace Church Choir.
“We mourn their loss, but most of all, we recognize their lives,” said Lauren Collins Cline, spokesperson for CMC, addressing the crowd of mourners during the vigil. “Let us all carry the light with us tonight, throughout the holidays, and always.”
Healthcare workers Alexandra Lominy and Elizabeth Vozzella then took turns reading the names of the unhoused residents who passed away during 2022.
“This event is for awareness of the people in our community who have died living outside,” explained Ann-Elise Bryant, a master licensed alcohol and drug counselor (MLADC) with Health Care for the Homeless.
“It’s also for people experiencing homelessness, or anybody who knows someone.”
In her work at Health Care for the Homeless, a program run by CMC offering unhoused residents two local physical practices and a street medicine program, Bryant has played a vital role in extending basic healthcare to those most in need.
“We go out and visit encampments, we go to the sidewalks—it’s a mix. Some people reach out to us, and other people we kind of come across,” she explained.
“We also have people who are in unstable housing, so we do home visits for people who have a hard time making it to the clinic.”
Alderman Erin George-Kelly (Ward 12), also the Director of Homeless Youth and Young Adult Services at Waypoint, spoke to the need for the vigil and her decision to attend.
“We have to recognize that homelessness causes your lifespan to decrease immensely,” she explained. “The average lifespan for someone who is chronically homeless is about 45 years.”
Under George-Kelly’s leadership, Waypoint opened a new shelter in October, catering specifically to young adults aged 18 to 25.
“For individuals that are on the street, if you get sick with a cold, it will very easily turn into pneumonia within a day of sleeping outside—just by being exposed and not having a warm, safe place to sleep,” explained George-Kelly.
“To be able to take care of yourself, pour yourself some tea and grab some cough medicine—to be able to treat an illness so that it doesn’t compound—people who are homeless don’t have that luxury.”
Collins Cline elaborated further. “The state of being homeless makes it a lot more difficult to get through things that wouldn’t otherwise be fatal to other people.”
Also in October, city aldermen approved a measure to prohibit the use of tarps, tents, and similar items within city parks.
“It was not lost on me that during this homeless vigil we were standing under a park rules sign that bans camping, umbrellas, and shopping carts,” said George-Kelly, who voted against the measure.
“When we pass ordinances that are clearly geared toward our unhoused residents, we are forcing them to leave the safest place that they know,” George-Kelly elaborated, through tears.
“The consequence is that more people die.”
Alderman Christine Fajardo (Ward 4), also in attendance at the vigil, reflected on her own vote against the new ban.
“As an elected official, I think I have a role to play in demonstrating solidarity with our unhoused neighbors,” she explained. “There is a direct correlation between the decisions that we make in City Hall and the outcomes for the people on the street.”
George-Kelly sees the correlation as well. “When individuals are in encampments in a park like this, and can stay in one spot for a while, they’re more likely to build relationships with service providers, access healthcare, and start to build some connection to our community,” she explained.
“Instead, they’re constantly being pushed to the edges of our society—and nobody accesses care there.”
Below are the names of the 31 deceased residents memorialized during the event:
Unhoused residents in need of medical care are encouraged to contact the CMC Health Care for the Homeless clinic at (603) 663-8718.