BRATTLEBORO—Todd. Danny. Damien. Brianna. William. Ronnie.
These were the names of people who experienced homelessness in and around Brattleboro — and died before they could be fully helped.
Their last names were left unspoken, to respect their privacy.
These people, and others unnamed who, in the words of the Rev. Lise Sparrow of the Guilford Community Church, were “lost to the mists of mental illness, of addiction, of poverty,” were remembered at the annual Homelessness Awareness Day and Memorial Vigil on Jan. 16 at Pliny Park.
The gathering was part of a series of statewide events that day which called attention to the urgency of the problems facing Vermonters who are homeless and to raise awareness for those who are still struggling to find safe and secure housing.
“We remember them as hopeful children,” said Sparrow amid flickering candles held by the 30 or so people who gathered in the park at the start of a long and cold January night.
“We remember the spark of their teenage years. We remember them as lovers, as husbands and wives, as fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, neighbors and friends.
“We see our own faces in times of trial and suffering, of courage and resilience. And we stand with them today, remembering all of who they were and who they will become to us.
“Let us be here with them, in memory, in light, and in love.”
Work to do — ‘and an opportunity’
Groundworks Operations Director Rhianna Kendrick said that 1,291 Vermonters were found to be experiencing homelessness on a single night in January, according to the 2018 Point In Time Count.
That number represents an increase of 66 people, or 5 percent, compared to the 2017 one-day count. Of that number, 112 were in Windham County.
“This doesn’t count those who are living at risk of homelessness, or those who bounce from couch to couch in order to have warm place to sleep,” said Kendrick.
She said what these numbers mean is “while we have work to do, we also have an opportunity.”
“Homelessness is a challenge that can be solved, but this will only happen when small communities such as ours come together to ensure that we have the systems and solutions in placs to do so,” Kendrick said.
Rev. Scott Couper, pastor of Centre Congregational Church, said having a vigil to raise awareness of homelessness was “very redundant,” because “anyone who spends time in Brattleboro is already aware.”
Over his 20 years serving in ministries in southern Africa before arriving in Vermont, Couper has been a witness to poverty and homelessness, he said.
The difference between there and here is that people need food and shelter in the United States while “in a context of plenty.”
Couper that he is regularly visited by vulnerable people at his church and realizes that as a person with “employment, a home, and private transportation, I am privileged by circumstance, not necessarily by merit.”
That makes it even more important, he said, for the rest of us to treat those living on the street “like the children of God they are, whatever their behavior, to make eye contact, to say ‘God Bless You,’ to offer them food or money.”
“To have eyes to see them in their full humanity which may restore them in some small way,” Couper said.