“People who experienced homelessness, were previously homeless or worked in the homeless sector were remembered during the darkest night of the year.”
This article was written on December 22, 2020 by Hannah LaClaire, a reporter from the Times Record. You can find the Times Record article here.
BRUNSWICK — Each year, the names read at Tedford Housing’s annual memorial service are a sobering reminder that people in the community are battling homelessness.
The service is traditionally held indoors, but this year, due the coronavirus pandemic, attendees gathered in the dark, cold and wet parking lot of St. Paul’s Church — outside and at the mercy of the elements. With candles held aloft, it was a poignant reminder of the risk faced by those without a permanent home.
They stood “in witness and solidarity to those who do not have stable housing,” Rev. Carolyn Ecklund said. “The light is shining in the darkness.”
Christopher Brawn, Charlene Matts, Nancy Lord, Terri Brenner, Walter Dahl, Jason Munsey and Dan Ouelette, people who either experienced homelessness, were previously homeless or worked in the homeless sector, were remembered Monday, the first night of winter and the darkest night of the year.
“Throughout the centuries, man has marveled at and sometimes feared the darkness that accompanies the long sleep of winter,” said Rota Knott, Tedford’s executive director. “People often fear what they don’t understand. Few of us understand what it is like to experience homelessness, to literally have nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help. So homelessness becomes a dark shadowy figure that lurks on the edge of our communities.”
Monday night’s ceremony served to honor the seven lost during the year, but also to “illuminate the darkness of fear and misunderstanding that marginalizes and shrouds our friends and neighbors who are experiencing homelessness,” she said.
Tedford Housing has observed Dec. 21, National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, for 30 years and has commemorated the day with an annual memorial service since 2006.
Last year, 11 people were remembered during Tedford’s service, and while this year the list was shorter, the coronavirus pandemic has only served to put the homeless community at greater risk and exacerbate the problems members already face.
The virus has disrupted life in all aspects, Knott said, from the big things like stay at home orders to the little things like remembering to bring a mask when leaving the house.
“But those are not little things to people experiencing homelessness,” she said. “It has been a particularly challenging year for those of us in our community who don’t have a home and a support system to turn to during this pandemic.”
This year, faced with reduced capacity to accommodate social distancing, Tedford Housing’s adult shelter on Cumberland Street served 57 people, only 37 percent of whom left the shelter for permanent housing.
The agency’s apartment-style family shelter on Federal Street served 53 family members. Of those, about 62 percent exited to permanent housing, according to the organization’s annual report.
The amount of time spent in the shelter has also increased as the pandemic grinds on.
This year, the average length of stay for an adult guest at the shelter was 88 days — a more than one-month increase from the 53-day average in 2019. The trend is mirrored for families, whose average length stay of 134 days is a 42-day jump from the year before.
In Portland, 64 people experiencing homeless died this year, according to the Portland Press Herald, nearly 50 percent more than last year.
While this trend is not mirrored in Brunswick, the situation is still dire.
For every person served, many more were turned away due to lack of space, and in 2020, Tedford turned away 266 individuals and 133 family members seeking shelter.