Outside the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, the crowd gathered with candles in plastic cups. The small flames flickered as the procession started toward Monument Square, but a cold wind extinguished many of the small flames. Still, strangers reached into coat pockets for lighters and passed them to neighbors, offering to light the wicks again.

More than 75 people gathered Friday to remember those in the homeless community who have died this year. The annual vigil falls on the winter solstice, and this year, the memorial recognized 43 lives lost. Organizers from Preble Street said the majority of those who passed were younger than 60 years old, and many died from causes that are not unique but that are exacerbated by the conditions of homelessness.

Edmundo Encinas III, left, and Joshua Welch remember the 43 homeless people who died in Portland in 2019. The annual vigil is held on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. “We all stick together as a homeless community,” Encinas said, “We stand together as one.” Michele McDonald/Staff Photographer

“It’s very important that we come together on this, the longest night of the year, the longest night of homelessness, to remember those that we have lost in this community, to paint with our voices on that long night sky the names of those who have left us,” said Pastor Jeff Logan of the Grace Street Ministry.

The speakers addressed a huddled crowd under the city’s towering Christmas tree. They all talked about loss in the community this year, as well as the barriers to health and safety that people experience when they are not housed.

Ryan Beckford is a peer support specialist at Spurwink and works in community outreach at Milestone Recovery. He said he was lucky to find the resources he needed when he was homeless, and he asked the crowd to help others in need. He recalled two friends who passed this year.

“It’s extremely sad, the lack of housing that’s out there and the struggles that we have trying to get them placed,” he said.

Kenneth Beek, a local author, said he used to sleep in a doorway not far from where the vigil took place Friday night. He said donations like hats and money are helpful, but he also asked the people gathered to give opportunities to people who are experiencing homelessness.

“There’s a lot of people right now in this community that are sleeping outside, that have gotten sick in the last month or so with the colder weather, and they’ll be sick – they’ll be sick for the rest of their lives, honestly,” Beek said.

Logan talked about the grief he saw on the street, but also the support among members of the community.

“My prayer for all of you experiencing homelessness is that one day, you will sit in your own home, music playing, a pot of soup on the stove in the kitchen and a hot bath to soak in at the end of the day,” he said. “But until then we will walk with you in solidarity, we will stand with you in grief, and we will sit with you in brokenness. And we will join our voices with yours and shout to the heavens that homelessness in the richest country on the planet is not OK.”

On the edge of the group, Edmundo Encinas III listened to the names spoken into the microphone and the songs sung by a group of musicians. Encinas said he feels supported by the broader community at an event like the vigil, but he does not feel that way most days. He said he hopes to see fewer barriers to housing and more programs to support people who are homeless.

The 31-year-old man said he would likely sleep outside Friday night, pressed against friends for warmth.

“If I don’t have it, they have it,” Encinas said of his friends in the homeless community. “If I have it, they have it.”

A man near Encinas waved goodbye, saying he needed to get in line at the Oxford Street Shelter. The candles were blown out, and the crowd dispersed into the night.


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