Vigil calls for solutions to homelessness

Four years ago a homeless man died on the streets of Hood River.

A vigil on Friday night remembered that man and the thousands of homeless like him who die in the United States every year.

Thirty people held candles, prayed and spoke the names of people who had either died, are currently homeless or who had experienced that existence and are now in more stable situations. The event was held at Overlook Memorial Park at Second and State streets.

Dec. 21 is National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

Roaring traffic noise accompanied a two-minute moment of silence for those affected by homelessness.

Locally, the vigils are organized by Jim Slusher of Community Action Council, which provides housing and heating assistance along with other resources to low-income people in Wasco and Hood Rive counties. This was the first in Hood River; the third-annual vigil took place in The Dalles earlier on Dec. 21.

“It’s a day to take time to remember the homeless and those who have died as a result of homelessness,” Slusher said.

He said communities all around the country today are joining to raise awareness about the issues of homelessness.

“Dec. 21 is also the first day of winter and the longest day of the year, making it even more difficult for those who are experiencing homelessness,” Slusher said.

“People experiencing homelessness have substantially lower life expectancy than other Americans due to lack of health care, increased instance of substance abuse, mental health disorders, violence and other causes,” he said. “As a nation, as well as a local community we should do a better job to prevent these tragedies and ensure that every American has access to a safe, warm stable place to call home.

“As we remember the men, women and children who have lived and died on American streets, let today be a reminder that we need to work smarter together, and take quick action to find permanent solutions to homelessness in our communities,” Slusher said.

At his side was Andy Wade, volunteer coordinator for the Hood River Warming Shelter, which started four years ago and provides nightly beds and food for the homeless from December to March.

Wade read a proclamation by the Hood River County Board of Commissioners, signed Tuesday, recognizing National Homeless Persons Memorial Day.

Slusher said that locally, “citizens are making some efforts to reduce homelessness.

“Community partners have been working for the past year and a half on a draft plan in last to end homelessness; which gives us direction and guidance, and helps us get funding.”

He explained that veterans groups and other funders require solid numbers on how many homeless exist, and demographics such as age, duration of homelessness and veteran status.

“The better we count, the better chance of funding,” Slusher said.

Wade and others helped get the Hood River Warming Shelter going four years ago, a direct response to the death of the homeless man in Hood River.

“Warming centers in The Dalles and Hood River have been opened just in the past few years,” Slusher said. “Prior to that we just kind of toughed it out.”

“To have a warm place that’s safe, with some food in the morning, and volunteers who are helping keep the centers open has been fantastic for our community,” Wade said. “We have a great group of dedicated volunteers.”

Six local churches take weekly turns hosting the shelters. Turn to page A2 for a related story.

This week’s shelter is hosted by Immanuel Lutheran Church, whose pastor, Jeff Mueller, offered a prayer as did Rev. Anna Carmichael of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, who prayed:

“For all men and women boys and girls who are homeless tonight; for those sleeping under bridges, on park benches, in doorways, in bus stations; for those who can only find shelter at night but must wander in the daytime; for families broken because they cannot afford to pay the rent; for those who have no relatives and friends who can take them in; for those who have no place to keep possessions that remind them of who they are; for those who afraid and hopeless; for those who have been betrayed by our safety net;

“For all these people, we pray that you will provide shelter and security and hope. We pray for those of us with warm houses and comfortable beds, that we not be lulled into complacency and forgetfulness.

“May we be empowered by word and deed, and whatever means we have, to bring justice and peace to the homeless.”

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