'Keeping their memory alive is everything.' Granite Staters mourn over 70 unhoused people lost in 2021
Huddled around a line of luminaries in Manchester’s Veteran’s Memorial Park, a crowd of mourners paid tribute to those who died in the city without a roof over their heads this year.
Of the 39 names read at the vigil, Kelly McAndrew says she knew 17 of them. One was her nephew. Another, who died just a few nights ago in a recreational vehicle that caught on fire, was one of her best friends.
“Keeping their memory alive is everything,” McAndrew said. “I know that every breath I take, I’m taking one for them, too. And I just hope that this helps people to recognize and be aware of the problem with homelessness here in Manchester.”
McAndrew, who said she’s also lived on and off the streets for 10 years, hoped last night's vigil helped people see the humanity in their unhoused neighbors.
“We're human beings, too,” she said. “Just because we don't have a home doesn't mean that we don't deserve to be recognized.”
Now in its fifth year, the Manchester vigil was co-sponsored by Catholic Medical Center's Health Care For the Homeless, an initiative to provide direct medical care to people living on the streets, in shelters or in other precarious housing environments.
Nurse Practitioner DD Travers works with that program, and Travers said it's been hard to lose so many of her patients.
“Interacting with them and making them feel human is really important,” she said of her outreach work. “Because all they are looking for is love, they're looking for somebody to accept them as they are.”
Travers said it's also becoming hard to provide consistent care to those who are still living because of efforts to disband encampments across Manchester. While she wishes all of her patients had a stable place to live and didn’t have to live outside, she said it would be less disruptive if they didn’t have to keep scrambling to find safe places to settle down in the meantime.
“I really wish we could have our clients have a place to stay outside, even just temporarily for a while, until we get them into transitional homes,” Travers said. “The more they get moved around the city, we lose connection and their care — and then we have to go find them again.”
Statewide, advocates have counted at least 74 people who died without a place to live in 2021.
Homeless Persons Memorial Day is traditionally observed on the Winter Solstice, which fell on Tuesday evening because it's the longest night of the year. Other vigils were held in Dover, Laconia, Nashua, Newport, Peterborough and White River Junction, in collaboration with groups from the Upper Valley.