Middletown Police Acting Captain Gary Wallace lights candles in remembrance of Middletown’s homeless.
Vigil Held for National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day
MIDDLETOWN - Tributes in memory of the area’s homeless residents who passed away in 2012 were made at a service and candlelight vigil Friday, Dec. 21, from 4 to 5 p.m. at The Church of the Holy Trinity, 381 Main St.
National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day was hosted by Wherever You Are Healthcare for the Homeless (WYA), a program of Community Health Center, Inc. (CHC), and St. Vincent de Paul Middletown to honor those persons and to bring awareness to the plight of the homeless in the city.
Held for the city’s homeless and near-homeless citizens, the event afforded them the chance to pay their respects to those homeless persons who have lost their lives. The memorial service was attended by nearly 300 people, about 80 percent of them homeless or formerly homeless people.
Organist Gordon Adam played Christmas carols to begin the service. Reverend Margaret Minnick, rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity, read the prayers accompanying the Lighting of the Advent Wreath by Reverend Steven Ling of Holy Trinity Church, Portland. The first candle was lit to “remember those persons who have been loved and lost . . .and to give thanks for the memory that binds them to us this season.” The second to “redeem the pain of the loss of relationships, jobs, and health.” The lighting of the third candle was to “recognize our realities this Christmas time: the poignant memories, the grief, the sadness, the hurts, and the pain.” The fourth to “remember the [afflictions] of millions of people...who are homeless,” to recognize that “injustice, unrighteousness and hatred are all too common” and to ask God “to help us to have compassion for others.”
After the prayers, Mayor Dan Drew reminded the congregation that “many of our fellow citizens do not have roofs over their heads...We understand that as we move forward together [to address the problem of homelessness], we must do so as one family...without judging one another,” he said. “We all have struggles that manifest themselves in different ways; for some people the inevitable result of those struggles is homelessness.
“When we go to sleep tonight and every night thereafter, when the temperature is sometimes below zero, we should remember that many people don’t have homes, or know where their next meal is coming from,” Drew said. “As we move forward to formulate a policy...to help people to come out of homelessness, it is our job to do everything we can so that all have the dignity of going to bed with a roof over their heads.”
State Senator Paul Doyle, representing the 9th District, said Middletown has been doing a great job of trying to help the homeless, specifically Kevin Wilhelm,co-chair of the Middlesex Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.
Doyle, referring to the first page of the service program, said that there were, on a single night in January 2012, 633,782 homeless people in the U.S. However, he said, during 2012, Middletown and the Middlesex Coalition have helped families avoid homelessness and created supportive housing units for formerly homeless individuals. Much of these efforts have been accomplished through a grant from the Middlesex County Community Foundation.
Wilhelm asked all veterans to stand for recognition by the audience; the audience warmly applauded the standing veterans.
Ernie Gulley, a veteran and one of the formerly homeless persons in the audience, then gave a solo rendition of “Amazing Grace,” which the audience received enthusiastically.
Martha Trevey, a nurse practitioner at Community Health Center, Inc., said Dec. 21, the longest night of the year, will be dark for 15 hours. “For the homeless, it means 15 hours of trying to find refuge from the cold.”
Trevey said that the many homeless who died had long-term illnesses or suffered from mental health problems. Illness, on top of the struggle for food, shelter and employment is often too much for many of the homeless.
Trevey explained how the Community Health Center’s Wherever You Are Healthcare for the Homeless (WYA) program comprised of health care providers, including nurse practitioners, substance abuse counselors and outreach workers, has worked to provide quality health care to the homeless in clinics at homeless, domestic violence and transitional shelters in New Britain, Meriden, Wallingford and Middletown.
“Wherever You Are hopes for more affordable, sustainable and accessible health care for individuals around the country,” she said.
Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul Middletown Ron Krom received a standing ovation for his moving, to-the-point speech.
He said that when we talk about a “homeless person,” we think about the condition of that person’s homelessness “instead of a person with a name and a story who happens to be homeless.
“People often think of the homeless as losers, or alcoholics, drug addicts or persons who never ‘made it’ or-- worse-- people who have made a choice to never make it,” he said.
Sometimes even those who work with the homeless often lose sight of the person, added Krom. He quoted a man who had dedicated himself to caring for the men and women who live on Skid Row in Los Angeles: “We are challenged to see with new eyes that the poor are...often heroic individuals who struggle mightily in the efforts to overcome the burdens of injustice that are heaped upon them by a system that is uncaring,” he said. “We need to listen to them, to provide opportunity for them to bring their gifts, their experiences, and tell of their frustrations and hopes.”
Krom reminded the audience that each of those who died “were our friends who were loved, made us laugh and made us cry. Each was a person who was deserving of all good things. It was the person who brought each of you the love and joy that you knew.”
Fred Pinero, a U.S. Navy veteran and a member of LEADers in Homelessness Reality, talked about his own homelessness, growing up in many foster homes, being jobless as well as homeless, having slept in his car, and having suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Pinero asked that all in the congregation who were or had been homeless to stand. As they remained standing, a microphone was passed around for each person to give his or her name.
Immediately afterwards, Reverend Minnick read the names of the homeless who died in 2012 as someone from the congregation lit a candle for each person: “Diana, Edna, Jessie, Mirasol, Peter, Richard, Rick, Wilfredo, Timur, Michael, Judith, Pat, Carl, Joe, and Heidi.” Others from the congregation came forward to read the names of homeless persons they had lost and lit candles for those persons.
The candlelight vigil was followed by Sue Murphy and Ernie Gulley leading the congregation in singing “Silent Night.” As the congregation left the sanctuary, each received a supply bag that included small winter accessories, hygiene products and brochures on local service agencies.