At the annual homeless vigil, voices of remembrance and change rang out

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  • Ellen Groh, executive director of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, pauses for a moment of silence for Julie Green, a member her staff who died in October.

  • Candles are placed in memory of the homeless persons who died in 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Angela Spinney of the Concord Resource Center places candles before the ceremony to remember the homeless who died in 2021 on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Nine-year-old Sam Paul with his mother, Nancy, holds a candle in memory of John Melli, one of the persons remembered at City Plaza in front of the State House on Tuesday, December 21, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Nine-year-old Sam Paul places a candle in memory of John Melli, one of the persons remembered at City Plaza in front of the State House on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Rev. Kate Atkinson, rector of St. Paul’s Church in Concord, places a candle in memory of one of the homeless persons who died in 2021 at the ceremony at City Plaza in front of the State House on Tuesday, December 21, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Nine-year-old Sam Paul of Concord holds a candle in memory of John Melli, one of the persons remembered at City Plaza in front of the State House on Tuesday, December 21, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Grace Kindeke places a candle on the table during the ceremony remembering the people experiencing homelessness that died in 2021.

Monitor columnist
Published: 12/22/2021 4:05:55 PM

Grace Kindeke did the heavy lifting Tuesday night beneath the State House arch.

She’s the program coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee, and she listened to the stories about the lives of the homeless people who died this year, who were remembered at the annual Homeless Memorial Vigil held on the longest night of the year.

Religious leaders and advocates working to end homelessness read the list of the 75 who passed, sprinkling in full names when available and adding nuggets of information about a love for music and bowling and the ocean.

Cigarette Tom was mentioned. So was the Handy Godfather. And Albert, the man who played guitar and stuck up for the underdog. And Buddha G, Fred M, Heidi B and Gary.

Somewhere in the midst of all that sorrow, however, with rush hour and Christmas traffic humming and honking on Main Street, Kindeke changed the tone. She took the mic and called out state and federal leaders, pressing Gov. Chris Sununu and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan to step up the plate, take a couple of swings at what Kindeke called a very solvable problem.

“Our representatives,” Kindeke told a crowd of about 100 people, “need to act to ensure that New Hampshire has a robust system for mental health support and substance misuse treatment and a housing supply that is safe, decent and affordable for our low-income residents.”

She spoke with no gaps, no unsure pauses, reading a prepared speech she had written with Maggie Fogarty, the director of the AFSC.

She spoke with conviction, getting straight to the point.

That was her role. Explain that our priorities were upside down and misguided, that more cops on the beat and more cops responding to violent confrontations – many sparked by mental illness – was not the solution.

“We know what to do,” Kindeke continued. “We know that our communities do not need more policing. They need resources. We know that.”

They met after the 75 bells, which Kindeke videotaped in its entirety with her cell phone. She and her mother immigrated to Manchester from The Democratic Republic of the Congo when Kindeke was 2.

Now 34, she’s engrossed in fixing a problem that to many seems unfixable. She moved to Boston for a while, and when she returned to Manchester a few years later, she says little had changed. At least not for the better.

“There was an increase in a lot of the social problems,” Kindeke said. “It had gotten a lot worse. My community (Manchester) was struggling, I was seeing more homeless people on the streets and just seeing the deterioration that I had not seen before.”

She stands for solutions, the idealist whose views rub conservatives the wrong way. They complain of entitlements and a system milked.

Kindeke sees a different story.

“More people are rising up, speaking out,” she said, “or they’re demanding that changes be made, and they’re showing up for those changes.”

Tuesday night was about change, as it is every year, at the same spot, with the same supporters reading a different list of names.

“This may be the only memorial observed in their honor,” the Rev. Kate Atkinson of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church told the gathering. “Most of them will be strangers to us and yet we gather to ensure that they are not forgotten and set free from whatever suffering or hardships they experienced in this life.”

Other familiar names – if not familiar faces due to a high percentage of mask wearers – gave their traditional input aimed at the less fortunate, trying to attach a name to a death, placing a candle on a table to represent each person, end a life with dignity and a community nearby.

The vigil recalled others as well, honoring Julie Green, who led the Resource Center at the Concord Coalition to End Homeless, and Rosemary Heard, the director of CATCH Neighborhood Housing.

Both passed away from cancer this year, an enormous jolt to the homeless community.

Green and Heard reached high, a pair of women who made helping others their careers. Anonymity and mystery surrounded the lives of the other 75 people remembered Tuesday. The panel of distinguished speakers spent their time verbally documenting all they could find about them. They presented them as, well, people.

Kindeke played a separate role. She looked around at the bigger picture. She elbowed a few people, told them to wake up.

“I came back to a state that has continued to deny and pretend as though we don’t have the resources to actually solve some of these problems,” Kindeke said. “We invest in systems of punishment, but the money is going to the wrong places.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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