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December 20. 2012 11:10PM

Nashua commemorates those who died homeless

NASHUA - Mary Putney stood outside the Main Street church with a lit candle in her hand. It was for Homeless Memorial Day, and unlike most of the 20 people gathered in the frosty chill, Putney knows what it is to be without a home.

Putney, 36, lived in Merrimack before she lost her housing. Due to family complications, she and her mother were made to leave.

"When they kicked us out, my dad got it set up that I could go over to Maple Street shelter," she recounted tearily after the vigil. "I was there for a little more than a year."

That was in September 2010, and she left the following September.

"It was very enlightening," Putney said of her stay at the shelter, where she made some lasting friendships. "I wouldn't be as understanding about (others). I can now take it all in stride - it took me a lot of patience."

The American Friends Service Committee organized vigils across the state. A vigil was also held in Portsmouth on Thursday. Vigils will be held today at:

-- Manchester: 6 to 7 p.m. Veterans Park.

-- Concord: 4 p.m. in front of the State House.

-- Laconia: 5:30 p.m., Veterans Park.

-- Keene: 5:30 p.m., Keene Common. Church bells will ring for 5 minutes at the start of a procession to the shelter and at the end.

-- Newport: 6 p.m. Vigil on the Common, followed by a soup and bread supper at Epiphany Church ("The Stone Church") and an 8 p.m. "Blue Christmas" service at Epiphany Church.

Nashua's event at the Main Street United Methodist Church was put together by the Nashua Continuum of Care, an umbrella group of service organizations, including the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter.

"Because they've had to live outside or in (unhealthy) situations, they die younger, all these people died younger," said Eileen Brady, who runs the soup kitchen.

National Homeless Persons Memorial Day takes place Dec. 21, on the winter solstice. The Nashua event was held Thursday to get a better turnout.

"It's the longest night of the year," Brady said. "The night that has the most fear, the most cold, the most uncertainty for people who don't know where they're going to stay that night."

Asked what needs to be done to address the issue, Brady was unequivocal: "Housing."

Community activist Ray Villeneuve read a Homeless Memorial Day proclamation from Gov. John Lynch, which urged "citizens to work together to provide those in need in our community with access to a safe, warm place to stay."

The group read biblical passages and sang a melancholy version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" in unison.

They also recited the names of homeless people who died in the state during the past year, including 10 from Nashua.

Brady said the spirit of people who have struggled against heavy odds lives on in their communities.

"Once a year, on the longest night, we remember their importance and recall their lives."

Alongside two fellow nuns, Sister May Cronin of the Sisters of Mercy interjected after the 34 names were read aloud, saying there are others whose names weren't said.

"For the nameless who die, they do have names. We certainly want to remember them."

The New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness issued its 2012 report Thursday.

According to the report, after increasing by 11 percent between 2010 and 2011, the state's homeless population decreased by about 4 percent this year to 1,725.

The number of unsheltered homeless fell by about 9 percent, or 38 people, while the number of sheltered homeless decreased to 1,357. The study also registered 127 homeless veterans.

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Simon Rios may be reached at srios@newstote.com.


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