[Hpn] NH Homeless Memorial Day Calls Attention To Our Own Humanitarian Efforts
William Charles Tinker
Tue, 23 Dec 2003 11:05:11 -0500
Their holiday wish is a home for all
Ceremony remembers, calls attention to homeless
By KRISTIN PROULX
December 23, 2003
"Murdered . . . Froze to death . . . Found in the woods . . . Died from an
overdose . . . Died from untreated cancer . . . Died behind a Dumpster . . .
On the longest night of the winter, a few feet away from a glowing manger
scene and a tall, transplanted Christmas tree outside the State House plaza,
local high school students read the names of about 60 homeless men, women
and children who had died since 1989, often cold, alone and without
A small crowd of church members, homeless advocates and others stood in a
circle holding small jars warmed by tea lights, singing hymns and offering
their own hopes that homelessness in New Hampshire would someday be extinct.
The Homeless Memorial Day service, similar to other December memorial
services around the country promoted by the National Coalition for the
Homeless, was organized by the New Hampshire chapter of the American Friends
Service Committee, a Concord-based social service and political activism
organization. Gov. Craig Benson was not present but had declared earlier in
the month that the service would be the state's official remembrance of
residents who had died without shelter.
The names, gathered from newspaper obituaries and word-of-mouth reports,
revealed the scope and diversity of New Hampshire's population. A premature
baby of homeless parents died just after birth. Men and women in their 30s,
40s, 50s and 60s drowned in rivers, burned to death in tents and houses or
froze in abandoned cars and under bridges. Some were called only by their
first names: Ron, Butch, Rose, Richard, Tex and Cookie.
"It's a long list, and it's hard to listen to," said Martha Yager of the
The group also reflected on the presence of homelessness itself, both in New
Hampshire and the rest of the country. Homelessness was not just "sleeping
rough" in makeshift shelters outdoors, said Yager. Homeless people often
moved from couch to couch or shelter to shelter. Others slept in cars or
abandoned buildings or shared small apartments with a half-dozen other
"Anyone can become homeless," said Linda Saunders of the Department of
Health and Human Services, which received $5.6 million in federal money
toward ending homelessness this year, an increase of more than $2 million
over last year's. "It's a national disgrace. Until we accomplish this goal,
we must continue to provide shelter to those who are in need of it."
A supporter of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, whose family sometimes lived in a car
when he was young, read a statement written by the presidential candidate
for the event.
"I know from firsthand experience that we must not turn our backs on our
fellow human beings," he wrote. "Let us remake America into the land of
The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, New Hampshire's newly consecrated Episcopal
Bishop, offered a Christian perspective on homelessness.
"It's important to remember that Jesus experienced everything we
experienced," Robinson said. "On the night of his birth, this child had
nowhere to lay his head. As far as we know, Jesus was always dependent on
the good works of others."
Robinson urged people not to simply care for people without homes, but to
address the political system that allowed them to remain without homes.
"Jesus doesn't just want us to save drowning people in the river, but walk
upstream and see who's throwing them in in the first place," he said.
And the Rev. David Keller, pastor of First Congregational Church, made an
announcement that drew applause. Beginning in mid-January, the local
chapters of the AFSC and the American Red Cross will run a
"temperature-sensitive" homeless shelter for up to 20 people on nights when
the temperature dips to zero degrees.
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P.O. Box 1177, Concord NH 03302