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Homeless people who died in 2020 receive their due downtown

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  • Lydia Black, 9, listens to the speakers as she came with her family to the Concord Homeless Persons Memorial Day Vigil at the State House. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Rev. Jason Wells, executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, attends the Concord Homeless Persons€™ Memorial Day Vigil 2020 at the State House on Monday. BELOW: Connor Spern, director of development at Friends Program and a volunteer at the Friendly Kitchen, places a candle for one of the 60 homeless deaths in New Hampshire this year. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • A candle is placed on a table for one of the 60 homeless persons that died in 2020 at the Concord Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day 2020 at the State House on Monday, December 21, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rev. Jon Hopkins from Concordia Lutheran Church in Concord at the Concord Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day 2020 at the State House on Monday, December 21, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Connor Spern, director of development at Friends Program and a volunteer at the Friendly Kitchen, places a candle for one of the 60 homeless deaths in New Hampshire at the Concord Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day 2020 at the State House on Monday, December 21, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Tim DeVincenzo of Concord at the Concord Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day 2020 at the State House on Monday, December 21, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 12/22/2020 4:19:31 PM

Tim DeVincenzo, a bearded bear of a man, paused after reading Jade Miller’s name and took a deep breath.

For the Concord resident and case manager for Families in Transition, mentioning Jade – one of the 60 homeless people with a connection to the Granite State who died this year – tapped into emotions DeVincenzo thought he had under control.

He prepared mentally for his role in this annual winter solstice event: be one of six people to read the names of those who died, held on the longest day of the year, paying tribute to a community whose members spent plenty of long days and longer nights praying for the sun to rise.

But for DeVincenzo and his partner, Carol Lizotte, some of the names read during the 90-minute tribute hit them close to home. They knew some of these people. They tried to help some of these people. Jade was one of them.

That’s why DeVincenzo’s voice began cracking as he moved through the sliver of information gathered about Jade, his pace more measured once he realized there were rough seas ahead.

“I stayed strong until I couldn’t do it anymore,” DeVincenzo said. “It’s just the weight of reading all of the names and knowing we worked with them.”

“It’s also hard hearing all the names,” Lizotte said, describing the impact she felt as DeVincenzo read his list of the deceased. “That was a hard one. She was a sweetheart.”

“She” referred to Jade. She had a nugget of information near her name, on a list that included some names with nothing more. Sometimes just a first name. Certainly no background. Their life stories were hardly known.

As for Jade, she died on Aug. 22. “She passed away as a direct result of her experience with homelessness,” DeVincenzo said

Jade was 33. She graduated from Plymouth Regional High School. She worked as a waitress and dabbled in carpentry.

“A beautiful person,” Lizotte said.

We hear about them, the people who blend into the landscape in a cruel sort of way, each year on Dec. 21. On that night, religious leaders, advocates and volunteers gather, pray, and sing while searching for a dignified way to find closure for someone whom they may have never met.

More than 70 people were at the State House, with an estimated 50 more watching virtually. Connor Spern of Concord, the development director for the Friends Program, handed out little battery-operated candles and strips of paper, each with the name of one of the 60.

One by one, the candles were placed on a table in the center of the Plaza, following the reading of each name.

Spern, usually a behind-the-scenes staffer, was needed Monday night to ensure that anyone concerned with face-to-face meetings due to COVID could still watch. She set up the cell-phone camera, propping it on a tripod.

“I’m probably the most technologically savvy on the committee,” Spern said, “and I told them I would be happy to do it. People understand the importance of coming out to recognize people who are usually forgotten.”

Spern knows well that homelessness eludes one-size fits all solution, but events like these underscore a problem that often remains hidden in the woods, out of sight, out of mind.

“I think if it’s one more person who becomes aware of this problem, then, yes, it’s worth it,” she said.

Bringing these people, in essence, back to life by name for one night is the underlying purpose of the event that adds humanity and warmth to an otherwise cold night with a tragic theme.

That’s Maggie Fogarty’s job. She’s the director of the American Friends Service Committee. She’s attended every vigil over the past 13 years. She started doing her research last month, looking for the people few had ever looked for.

She spoke to homeless outreach workers and homeless shelter managers and Catholic Medical Center representatives. Anyone, really, who could help her compile the latest list of people who lived in relative obscurity before passing.

“One by one, the names start to come in,” Fogarty said. “We usually land at about 60 names.”

She mentioned a woman named Kim Blanchard, who went missing in June and was found dead under a Manchester bridge on Aug. 30. She was 38.

“She was a loving mother full of pride for her three wonderful children,” her short bio read.

Mary Rittacco’s name came up a lot. She was found in Bicentennial Square in November, her death at age 70, from what was reported as natural causes, still fresh.

Mary had expressed concern over making it through another winter. During past winters, she had slept on the bench outside the entrance to St. Paul’s Church. Her bio said she was intelligent, stubborn and charming.

DeVincenzo read the brief description about Jade Miller. The woman he and Lizotte had befriended, trying to help her build something. They had seen her suffer. They were moved by her courage.

Thus, a pause, a deep breath and a cracking voice.

“She enjoyed crafts such as embroidery and sewing,” DeVincenzo told the assembled crowd, his words emerging slower and slower.

“Everyone looked forward to her homemade chocolates at Christmastime.”


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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