BRUNSWICK — Josh Kane, 27, was the youngest of eight siblings and is remembered for his “kind heart and helpful disposition.” 

John Chaput, 32, enjoyed death metal music, playing bass and spending time with his nephews. According to his obituary, “nothing was dearer to him than the family he was born to and the one he had found.” 

Russell Williams, 64, was loud, exuberant, sometimes obnoxious, and well loved in his community, according to friends and family.

One candle is used to light another at Tedford Housing’s annual homeless memorial service. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Cheryl Dudley, 65, was a success story for Tedford Housing, the area’s homeless shelter. A friend described her as a lover of books who held tight to her independence, courage and dignity. 

Kane, Chaput, Williams and Dudley’s names were recited Saturday night, the darkest night of the year, along with those of Charles Harris, Dan Ouellette, Peter Cook, Rev. Richard Hall, Valerie Herrick, Carl Wakefield and James Gallagher, in a small ceremony remembering the lives Brunswick’s homeless community lost this year. 

The 11 people memorialized Saturday were either experiencing homelessness, previously were homeless or worked in the homeless sector.

“We carry their names to remember, to mourn, to celebrate,” Rev. Carolyn Ecklund read during the litany written by Carina Aleckson. “To offer support, to ensure that no life, no death, no passing from here to the beyond is unseen or unacknowledged, we carry their names.” 

Tedford Housing’s homeless memorial service has been an annual event in Brunswick since 2006, part of a larger, nationwide homeless memorial commemorated in 175 communities since 1990.

After music, poetry and Bible readings at First Parish Church, guests stepped outside and lit their candles for a few moments of remembrance and to “welcome the light,” on the darkest night of the year, said Joyce McPhetres, a Tedford board member. 

There may be more than the 11 people named, said Rev. Chick Carroll, a founding member of Brunswick’s day shelter, The Gathering Place, but people can be hard to keep track of after they move on from Brunswick or leave town for various reasons. People can be hard to find, and often there are no obituaries. As Craig Phillips, executive director of Tedford Housing said last year, for some, the annual memorial service may the only commemoration of their lives. 

This year, as the community continues discussions around affordable housing and homelessness after the death of Williams, who was found dead in his sleeping bag by the train tracks in November, the memorial has “a little bit more meaning,” Phillips said. “The intersection of homelessness and health” continues to be a prevalent topic, he said.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless Mortality Archives, the average life expectancy for a chronically homeless person is just 50. 

In fiscal year 2019, Tedford Housing served 86 individuals and 23 families in the adult and family shelters, but had to turn away 251 individuals and 205 families due to lack of space. Of those served, 39% of individuals and 88% of families exited to permanent housing. In April, after more than a year of deliberations, the Brunswick Town Council approved an ordinance establishing rules for homeless shelters in town, allowing Tedford to move forward with plans to build a larger homeless shelter and resource center in town. Incoming executive director Rota Knott said building the resource center will be one of her goals for the organization. 

Community members gather outside First Parish Church in Brunswick to light candles for the 11 people in the homeless community who died this year. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

But according to Rev. George Hardy, another founder of the Gathering Place, even if Tedford officials get all the beds they want “they’ll still be filled every night,” such is the state of homelessness in Maine. According to the Maine Point in Times count, which offers a snapshot of homelessness on one night of the year, there were 1,215 Mainers experiencing homelessness on Jan. 22: an 8% increase over 2018.

Memorials like the one on Saturday are important to help the community remember their lost neighbors, he said, but also “to bring up to the homeless community that they are not forgotten.”
And above all, he said, it serves to “remind us that we’ve got a mission to finish.” 

This story has been updated to reflect the proper spelling of the Rev. Carolyn Ecklund’s name and to include Carina Aleckson as the author of the litany. 

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