For the 24th year in a row people gathered in Portland Friday on the longest night of the year to remember those from greater Portland's homeless community who have died during the past 12 months. Thirty-six people were remembered, 26 men and 10 women, with an average age of 47.
Among those speaking at the vigil was homeless advocate Bonnie Guerette. She told the 150 or so people who had gathered at the Preble Street Resource Center that she's the mother of three, the grandmother of two and a medical professional. Although she now has a place to live, she said that she's been homeless for the past five years.
“Now that I have a place to stay on my own, I dread Mondays even more so for who I might not see,” Guerette said. “I feel panic and start the week hunting for my friends and my family to make sure they're okay.”
Guerette says she has seen what people have to go through on a daily basis just to eat, sleep, to shower, have a warm place to sleep and to feel safe and acknowledged as a human being.
Dr. Renee Fay-Leblanc is chief medical officer with Greater Portland Health, a federally qualified health center that cares for many people who are experiencing homelessness.
She said that homelessness is not just about housing, but that it also involves childhood trauma, lack of affordable higher education and a lack of jobs.
“Mental illness, physical illness. including substance-use disorder, lack of economic security and the criminalization of the social issues that come with poverty,” she added. Fay-Leblanc said that across the nation the life expectancy of people experiencing homelessness is almost 3 decades shorter than average.