Memorial to the homeless brings community together

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Danielson - posted Fri., Dec. 28, 2012
People gather around a Christmas tree in the Davis Park gazebo to recognize National Homeless Persons Memorial Day. Photos by D. Coffey.
People gather around a Christmas tree in the Davis Park gazebo to recognize National Homeless Persons Memorial Day. Photos by D. Coffey.

On Dec. 21, several people gathered in the dark at the Davis Park gazebo in Danielson to commemorate National Homeless Persons Memorial Day. For more than 20 years, the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Consumer Advisory Board have sponsored the event to call attention to those who have died while homeless. Generations Family Healthcare Center and religious leaders from several churches spearheaded the Danielson event.

The Rev. Greg Thomas from Cornerstone Baptist Church and Roberta Davis from Generations read as the group gathered around a teddy bear-decorated Christmas tree. Four lanterns representing hope, caring, memory and comfort were lit and placed around the tree. “These candles are lit in memory of those who have died this year,” Thomas said. “We remember them now with the tolling of a bell and the laying of a wreath.”

A hand bell was rung, a wreath was laid at the foot of the tree, and the group sang and prayed. The Rev. Lisa Anderson of St. John's Lutheran Church, Deacon Barbara Schreier of the United Methodist Church, and the Rev. Susan of Feurzeig of the Danielson Methodist Church participated in the prayers and readings that evening.

Tina Thomas, who had been homeless as a child, attended the event. The oldest of nine children, she remembered sleeping in cars while growing up in the Phoenix area. “People don't realize the fear that you live with every day,” she said. “All it takes is a kind word to give someone comfort.”

The memorial is held on the longest night of the year to symbolize the darkness shrouding the lives of those who are homeless. According to figures from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 633,782 people experience homelessness on any given night in the United States. Approximately 10 percent of the homeless population (62,619) consists of veterans, 239,403 are people in families, and 392,945 are individuals. Less than 16 percent are considered chronically homeless.

Carl Asikainen, with the Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group, said there isn't a good grasp of the numbers of homeless in Windham County because of the nature of the area. “People are scattered and doubled up, with multiple families living in one household,” he said, “and the rural nature of our Quiet Corner makes it difficult to identify the homeless.” But he knows there are homeless in the area because of the people who present themselves to TEEG and other area agencies.

The Danielson event had the biggest gathering in its three years, according to the clergy in attendance. “It's real important,” said Asikainen.

A simultaneous memorial walk and vigil was held in Putnam at Rotary Park. Attendees at both events were asked to bring a donation of a nonperishable food item or an article of warm clothing.

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