Vigil participants light candles as the names of the 43 homeless men and women who died this year are read in Monument Square Dec. 20. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Dozens turned out last Friday to honor the 43 members of the homeless community who lost their lives in 2019.

For the last 25 years, people have gathered in Portland for the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil, an event to mourn and pay tribute to the lives lost and to reaffirm the need to help find homes for those without. The event Dec. 20, coinciding with the winter solstice, started at the Preble Street Resource Center and ended at Monument Square for speeches, songs and the reading of the names of the 43 homeless people who died this year.

“There is no difference between those without a home and those with a home when it comes to the pain of losing a loved one,” said Pastor Jeff Logan of Grace Street Ministry, one of the event’s three speakers.

The Rev. Kenneth Logan of Grace Street Ministry vowed to stand in solidarity with the homeless until all those who need a home have one. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Logan said it will take the entire community working together to solve homelessness. He prays that one day all those now homeless will be able to sit in their own home and enjoy a hot meal, listen to music and soak in a hot bath, he said.

Until then, he will stand with the homeless in solidarity, console them in their grief and never stop working until homelessness is ended forever, he said.

Ryan Beckford, a peer support specialist at Spurwink, also called for a community effort.

“I ask everyone who is able to open their hearts and help people struggling with homelessness,” Beckford said.

The year 2019 saw the most homeless deaths since 2015, which also marked 43 deaths, according to Preble Street Resource Center. This year, a homeless veteran froze to death while sleeping outside in Brunswick and the other deaths were the result of chronic medical conditions, cancer, overdoses, stroke, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart complications and liver disease, the organization said.

The Vigilantes sing “Streets of Portland.” a locally inspired version of Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London,” at the Annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil Dec. 20 in Monument Square. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

“What we see and what we know nationwide is when someone experiences chronic homelessness, which means they are living in a shelter or outside for years, that takes years off of someone’s life,” said Caitlin Corrigan, health services director for Preble Street Resource Center.

The average age at death in Cumberland County for 2019 is 80.1 years old, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The average age at death for the greater Portland homeless population over the last year was 55, including one as young as 35.

Preble Street Resource Center Executive Director Mark Swann said “the human toll of allowing these vulnerable neighbors to slip through the cracks is devastating, not only to those of us who knew and loved the 43 people we’ve lost so far this year, but to our community as a whole.”

Preble Street Resource Center, the city’s health and human services department, Greater Portland Health, Maine Medical Center and Mercy Hospital were the sponsors of the event.

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