Vigil on winter solstice honors homeless people who died in Bangor in 2013

Posted Dec. 22, 2013, at 5:11 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Their names were Rick, Judy, Marvin, John and Pups.

Jim McMahon doesn’t remember the names of all the people he met at a local homeless shelter who have died since he came to the area 3½ years ago from Fryeburg.

“Just myself, I know 20 people gone from being out in the cold,” McMahon said Saturday at a vigil to honor the homeless who had died over the past year. “There’s a lot of people who passed alone.”

He said that the eight months he was homeless, staying at the Hope House on Indiana Avenue in Bangor, felt like eight years.

McMahon, who now lives in Old Town, spoke at the annual event held at the Hammond Street Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. About 75 people attended the service in Bangor. A similar event was held Friday in Portland.

“This is the evening of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year,” Dennis Marble, director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter on Main Street, said. “This period of maximum darkness is a symbolic fit for people experiencing homelessness and, perhaps, for our collective response to those people.”

Marble said that about 10 people who were homeless or had been recently homeless in Bangor died in 2013. He said it was impossible to be sure of an exact number.

“Generally as a society, I don’t believe we wish to fully acknowledge the condition we refer to as homelessness,” he continued. “Many of us have experienced an urge to look away when we see people huddled in a doorway or passed out on a sidewalk. Most of us want to imagine such people as being different from us. They have to be, don’t they, to end up on the streets?”

Margaret Guiod said that since becoming homeless in April 2012 the friends she made became like family. She lost two of them in past year. Steve Marshall died in his sleep in mid-September at a local shelter, she said. Barbara Goodwin’s body was pulled from the Penobscot River in Hampden on Oct. 28.

“Both had hearts of gold,” Guiod, 40, who now lives in Bangor, said after the service.

Marble said that as a society, “we are diminished by having people experience homelessness and we are clearly bruised and made less by the death of anyone who has been kept out of our collective community.”

McMahon expressed concern for his friends who still are homeless as ice rained down on the city.

“Like they say, this is the longest day of the year,” McMahon said. “I hope everybody has a warm place to go. It’s going to be a cold winter.”

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