by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BRUNSWICK — Tedford Housing joined organizations across the country in remembering the homeless who died in 2012.
The Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day Commemoration, which took place on Dec. 21, was initially organized by the National Coalition for the Homeless 23 years ago, has been observed by Tedford Housing for at least a decade.
“It’s a nationwide acknowledgment of people who have died and are homeless,” said Susan Wygal, the interim director of development for Tedford Housing. Many times the homeless just become a statistic, something that the Coalition and the memoriam seek to alleviate.
Tedford Housing, based out of Brunswick, provides adult shelters, family shelters, and supportive housing. The commemoration is especially important to the group, as they have been working closely with the homeless for a number of years. Tedford Housing was originally called Tedford Shelter, but since their expansion into supportive housing they have changed their name. According to Wygal, the organization is always working to expand their services.
“Unfortunately, the demand has always been growing faster than what we can meet,” said Wygal.
Although the primary focus of the organization is shelter and housing, they also organize heating assistance and other assistance programs, in order to ease the cost for families and ensure they won’t have to leave their homes.
“We see it every day,” said Craig Phillips, executive director of Tedford Housing. “People who never thought they’d be in this situation, coming to us for help.”
That help is extended gladly, and comes from numerous volunteers in the area.
“People are calling up all the time looking to volunteer,” said Phillips. “There’s probably not a day that goes by where I don’t meet somebody that’s supportive.”
The problem of homelessness is especially poignant around the holidays, but the spirit of giving comes through in a big way. Tedford Housing received a variety of gifts form local businesses and charitable organizations that were given out to families in need for the holidays.
“This is the time of year when we hear from many more people who want to help,” said Bill Bliss, pastor of The Neighborhood Faith Community United Church of Christ in Bath, and a member of the board of directors for Tedford Housing.
Although the problem of homelessness in Maine is usually not as severe as it is in larger cities and metropolitan areas, the need for housing is still very strong. According to Wygal, as of Dec. 21, around 750 people were in shelters across the state, and uncounted numbers were in the streets, unable to get into a shelter.
Being homeless in Maine isn’t easy. The winters make being outside difficult to bear. The night of the memoriam certainly highlighted this, with a nor’easter roaring outside on the longest night of the entire year.
The commemoration was lightly attended, with the storm making people reluctant to come out. The normal service, which would involve a candlelit vigil in the park, was also canceled, as the rain was too severe for the candles to even stay lit.
The vigil was still held, albeit indoors, with Bliss giving a sermon to those who made it.