BANGOR, Maine — Several people who attended a memorial service Friday for a homeless man who died last month after being struck by a car while crossing a downtown street said his death should lead to better community partnerships to prevent others from slipping through the cracks.
Robert Wallace West, 50, who was called “JR,” died May 30 after attempting to cross Hammond Street with his shopping cart in front of a bench he was known to frequent. No charges will be filed against the driver of the car that struck him, police said.
“JR stands as a symbol of a broken system,” the Rev. Stan Moody, a senior pastor at Columbia Street Baptist Church, said to the crowd of about 80 who attended the memorial at the church.
Moody went on to say West “had no place to lay his head,” but added the cause of his homelessness largely was his own doing. West had a lengthy criminal history that made him a lifetime registrant on the Maine Sex Offender Registry.
“Everyone in public service knew JR. Most will remember him with mixed memories,” Moody said. “He was not a guy who was easy to like.”
West was a regular at the Hope House, a shelter for people with drug and alcohol addictions. He also spent time at the Penobscot Community Health Care’s Unlimited Solutions Clubhouse on Summer Street, a gathering place that offers social, vocational and educational programs for men and women who have histories of psychiatric illness.
Several members of Unlimited Solutions attended the memorial wearing T-shirts with the clubhouse logo. One person stood to say JR “set a place for me” during daily gathering and will be missed.
Moody said people would be surprised to know West crocheted, knew sign language and had children and grandchildren.
“Yet, no family members claimed his body,” Moody said. “They, like many of us, could not get past his troubled history.”
Moody went on to say he would miss West.
“I will miss his hugs, and I will miss him snoring through my sermons,” the reverend said, which garnered a round of laughter from attendees at the service.
Homeless people have a lot of good resources in Bangor, but more can be done, said Pastor Terry Dinkins of Mansion Ministries, which partners with Columbia Street Baptist Church.
“I think the community is doing a fairly good job for the homeless population but we can step it up … so we don’t have more JRs,” Dinkins said. “I think we need to learn to communicate more and work together.”
If area churches, public service workers and social services programs worked together more to help those who live on the streets, the world would be a better place, Rebekah Timms of Brewer said while wearing a blue T-shirt with the words “Street Pastor” on the back.
“That is what we take from this tragedy,” Timms said.
Donations and a trust fund in West’s name paid for his funeral and a grave marker at Pine Grove Cemetery. West was laid to rest Friday afternoon.