On cold, dark night, Turning Point observes Homeless Memorial Day
On the night of Wednesday, Dec. 21, the longest night of the year, 500,000 Americans were homeless. Twenty thousand of them were in Massachusetts. Of those 20,000, only half of them had shelter during those 15 hours of darkness.
Her breath foggy in the freezing night air, Rebecca McCullough read these statistics during Turning Point’s National Homeless Persons Memorial Day service, held at the organization’s Viking Drive headquarters on a night when many were preparing to celebrate the holidays with family.
“We’re not celebrating,” said McCullough. “We’re here to bring awareness to the plight of our homeless neighbors.”
Rebecca stood in for her husband Chuck, Chair of the Wareham Committee for the Homeless, who could not make it due to illness.
About a dozen people stood out in the cold, singing “Amazing Grace” and praying alongside local faith and community leaders.
They decorated a memorial Christmas tree with star-shaped ornaments bearing the names of people who died while homeless in the Wareham area. The names were not only hanging from a tree, but attached to faces and stories.
Rebecca said that compassion, job training and mental health treatment are key to solving the crisis of homelessness.
Select Board Member Jared Chadwick read a proclamation from the town observing National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, and offered some thoughts of his own.
“I’ve seen firsthand how hard it can be to deal with these problems,” he said. “Our mental health care system in this country is broken, and even more so in the state of Massachusetts.”
As a case manager with Father Bill’s and MainSpring, an organization that provides housing and job opportunities to the homeless, Brandon Reynolds personally knew the people whose names were on the tree. He said that although they had no permanent address, Wareham was still their home.
“Most people don’t want to leave their home community,” he said, noting the absence of a homeless shelter in Wareham. “They know their doctors, their friends, their providers… For too many of our neighbors, home is wherever they can lay their head that night. And too many of them won’t be able to find a home before they are called home forever.”
His voice shaky, Reynolds read the names placed on the tree from a notebook.
“I know there’s many more,” he said.
“They died in a way that nobody should die,” said Pastor Mac Smith of the Bay Community Alliance Church in Buzzards Bay. “Alone, cold, lost, unfriended. Let us befriend those that we can, and help those we can as well.”
The attendees read Psalm 23 and heard a prayer from Smith.
“This is the Christmas season, the season of light,” he said to God. “This is the season when we should reach out more than ever before to represent you and yours the best that we can. We ask for comfort, for warmth, for shelter for those who are in need.”
The memorial concluded with a candlelit walk around the Middle School track.
“As the caring neighbors I know us to be,” Reynolds said, “we must all come together to house those who need it. Someday I hope there will be no homeless in Wareham, but until then, we have work to do.”