Thursday night was the longest night of the year – and also a cold one, with temperatures dipping well below freezing. With this in mind, Catholic Medical Center's Health Care for the Homeless convened a vigil in Manchester's Veterans Park to remember the more than 50 people who died in the past year because they had no place to go on nights like this.
Gerry Paquette, a nurse with Catholic Medical Center’s Health Care for the Homeless program, said she first attended the vigil in 2004. Since then, she’s become instrumental in planning the gathering each year.
“It’s very humbling to be out here in the cold, like the homeless live most of the time,” Paquette said. “It just makes it more real, realizing how they have to live out in the cold most of the winter, with all of their belongings with them.”
Paquette said she wishes more people looked beyond the stigma associated with homelessness to realize that people living on the street are dealing with mental illness, substance use disorders and other legitimate medical conditions.
“Sometimes they’re just thought of as bums. That’s just not true,” Paquette said. “They’re people that have disorders that need help.”
Amy Pratte, director of Catholic Medical Center’s Healthcare for the Homeless program, estimates the program helps around 1,700 people each year – ranging from those experiencing chronic homelessness to those who temporarily lack a stable roof over their head.
She hopes others in the community appreciate both the severity of the issue and the fact that there are many ways for people to help their fellow neighbors in need.
“I would just ask that people see what they can do. Everybody can really do something – if you’re a business person, individuals, families – everybody can take a little time to reach out,” Pratte said. “If they have a friend or a neighbor that’s experiencing difficulties, try to connect them with services. That’s really how it happens, one person at a time.”
Gov. Chris Sununu wasn’t at the event but issued a proclamation beforehand declaring Dec. 21 Homeless Memorial Day in New Hampshire.
The proclamation noted, in part, “adequate housing is essential for healthy families and communities, and, unfortunately, housing is becoming inaccessible for an increasing number of families across New Hampshire.”