BANGOR, Maine — Nine people died homeless on the streets of Bangor this year, and nearly 60 people have died homeless in the last decade.
Those stark statistics brought together on Tuesday night about 130 community members, who gathered in the bitter cold to participate in the fifth annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day Candlelight Walk.
The memorial walk always is held Dec. 21 because it is both the first day of winter and the longest night of the year.
The candlelight procession began at the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, with participants holding small white candles and walking in the cold to a memorial service at the Hammond Street Congregational Church.
The event is held to celebrate the lives and to mourn the deaths of homeless Bangor people, who often die alone and without public recognition, said Mike Andrick, psychotherapist and Hope House Homeless Shelter director.
“We’ll be ringing the bell 59 times,” he said, once for each of the homeless people who died in Bangor during the last decade.
On a table at the front of church were 59 candles, each one symbolizing the light of a local homeless person who died in the last decade. Nine of those candles represent people who have died in the last year.
The homeless memorial walk through the streets of Bangor gives participants a taste of the daily struggles homeless people face, especially during Maine’s harsh winters, said Dennis Marble, Bangor Area Homeless Shelter executive director.
“These are people whose lives did have meaning,” he said.
One participant was Daniel Flagg, who became homeless 3½ months ago, shortly after returning to Bangor after living in southern Maine for years.
“I had never been homeless before,” he said, standing in front of the downtown homeless shelter before the walk began. “I ended up coming here because I didn’t have anyplace to go. Now, I want to give back as much as I can.”
Flagg is no longer homeless, thanks to support from staff at the shelter, who helped him apply for assistance from the city and the state.
“I didn’t know what was available to me,” he said. “You have to help yourself. They can only do so much. You have to do a lot of legwork” to get qualified and into programs designed to help get people off the streets.
Flagg said homelessness could happen to anyone.
The Bangor event is one of 100 held nationwide to mark National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.
The memorial in Bangor was organized by Penobscot Community Health Care, in partnership with its Summer Street Community Clinic and Hope House Homeless Shelter, the Hammond Street Congregational Church, the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, Spruce Run, Manna Ministries, the city of Bangor and the Bangor Police Department.
According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, the homeless are three to four times more likely to die prematurely than their housed counterparts. Many are the targets of crimes; others have chronic health conditions that are worsened by exposure to bitter winter weather.
Other groups and volunteers also provided music, refreshments and other services.
“If we’re able to see them as family, we’re able to help them out,” Meridith Bolster, an adviser at Summer Street Community Clinic, told the gathering.