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Portland gathers to remember 45 unhoused people who have lost their lives in 2023

A large crowd gathered in Monument Square in Portland on Dec. 21, 2023 to remember the 45 formerly unsheltered people who lost their lives this year.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
A large crowd gathered in Monument Square in Portland on Dec. 21, 2023 to remember the 45 formerly unsheltered people who lost their lives this year.

Every winter solstice, advocates and others gather in Portland to remember unhoused people who have lost their lives during the year.

And their challenges were especially visible this year.

More than 100 people gathered in Monument Square in Portland, where, in the bitter wind, members of the crowd attempted to light a candle for each of the 45 unhoused people who died this year. Their names were read one by one.

On the longest night of the year, a large crowd gathered in Portland to remember the 45 formerly unhoused people who died in 2023.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
On the longest night of the year, a large crowd gathered in Portland to remember the 45 formerly unhoused people who died in 2023.

Advocate Shay Dufour has experienced homelessness, and one of her friends, Cassie, was among those formerly unhoused people who lost their lives. Dufour urged the crowd to demand more affordable housing, shelter and care for those who are living outside and in the encampments around Portland.

"To watch the same people we've grown close to and loved, to have their lives turned upside down and have their own city turn their own backs on them during a difficult in chapter in their life, and to treated like they're a disease, has been the most heartbreaking and outrageous act of brutality we've seen over the last 20 years," Dufour said.

The life expectancy for those who are homeless is about 28 years shorter than those who are housed, according to the nonprofit Preble Street. This year, unsheltered people died from overdose, cancer, exposure, meningitis and chronic health conditions.

Dr. Kevin Sullivan, medical director for the Greater Portland Health centers for the homeless, said he's hopeful now that the city has expanded the number of shelter beds available to unhoused people. Still, he said, it's not enough, and he knows that some people will remain outside.

"We need to figure out how we as a city can care for them even where they are and help them stay safe even where they are," Sullivan said.

The city of Portland is planning to clear all encampments, including one of the largest sites at the Harbor View Memorial Park under the Casco Bay Bridge, on Dec. 28.