LACONIA — On the longest night of the year, some two dozen men, women and children gathered in the glow beneath the lighted boughs of the tall spruce in Veterans Square to mark the 26th annual Homeless Memorial Day.
Hosted Monday night by Leonard Campbell of Catholic Charities, the vigil opened with the singing of "We Shall Overcome," followed by a gathering prayer that closes with the challenge of the Lord to meet "the needs of the poor and homeless, saying 'you do this to Me.'"
A proclamation of Gov. Maggie Hassan noted that in 2014, nearly 5,000 people, one in five of them children, sought shelter from the state in New Hampshire, 2,158 on one single cold night in January, while some bunked with family and friends and others weathered the elements.
Still others passed away. Reading by the light of a candle in their hands, every person at the vigil read from from a list of 42 names, each of a man or woman who spent years of their lives without a home of their own and died before the year was out.
About most, nothing was noted beyond their age. Alphonse Belanger, 62, of Manchester was remembered for as "a man whose sense of humor still shone through his sarcastic grumpiness." Richard Burhoe, known as "Country," was struck by a car on Elm Street in Manchester, Ron Del Dotto of Nashua "drowned in the river" and Bonnie M., 60, was "found in her room."
Norman McInnis Jr., called "Stormin' Norman,' became homeless when his landlord barred his dogs from his apartment, so he lived in the park until his dogs passed away, then, despite much anxiety about being inside," was housed. Struck by a train in Concord, Shaune Mulligan, 49, was "the kind of guy who, if he had the last two drinks, he'd share one with you," but amputations left him with only three toes when he was killed. Just 21, John S. was "much too young to have lived such a long homeless life," and Alex Starkweather of Nashua died homeless at 16, the child of a homeless family.
Rick Sargent of Laconia. who died recently, was remembered as "a good soul" by Sally Cantinelli, who uses a wheelchair.
"Whenever he saw me on the street he said hello and asked after me," she said, "and if I was going home he would push me there. He made sure I was always safe."
The late Jamie Kupchun, 44, of Manchester, who was among the founders of the Under the Bridge project, an advocacy group for the homeless, left words of his own. "Under the bridge isn't just a place," he wrote. "It's a way of life some have to face cold and alone outside. Under the bridge isn't a place; it's a feeling you get when you are all alone, no rescue in sight and the only thing on your mind is where you'll sleep tonight."
"We don't forget," Campbell said, highlighting the purpose of the vigil. "People are not invisible."
PHOTO: 12-21 Homeless Vigil
Chris Witten, right, reads a proclamation from Gov. Maggie Hassan declaring Dec. 21, 2015, the 26th Annual National Homeless Person's Memorial Day during a vigil organized by New Hampshire Catholic Charities Parish and Community Services coordinator Leonard Campbell at Veterans Square in Laconia Monday evening. About two dozen people gathered Monday evening during the first day of Winter to commemorate the event. (Daryl Carlson for the Laconia Daily Sun)
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