By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,268)
Thirty-five people who died in 2014 were honored this evening in front of the Christmas tree at Monument Square at an annual vigil. What distinguishes these people from others who died during the year is that at one time or other, they’ve all been homeless. This year eight of the thirty-five were homeless at the time of their death. The remaining twenty-seven have been homeless at some time in their lives. The annual vigil is hosted by Preble Street, the City of Portland and Mercy Hospital.
This number is the highest since Preble Street starting keeping records – which was back in 2000. Fifty one is the average age of those who died this year. Poverty is given as the primary reason for the rise in the number of deaths. “Poverty kills,” said Amy Gallant, an employee of Preble Street. The vigil is always held on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year; especially for the homeless.
Tom Ptacek, is the Veterans’ Outreach Community organizer and one of the organizers of the vigil. He knows how difficult it is to be homeless. He was homeless five years ago. During that time, he lived at the Oxford Street Shelter for a year. As a navy veteran, he qualified for a VASH voucher – comparable to a Section 8 housing voucher – and he now has his own apartment in Portland.