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Dec 21st 3-5 PM Vigil for people who died homeless to bring together housed and unhoused

3 to 5 PM Portland Oregon

The event, on the longest night of the year, will provide a space for mourning and challenge people to help build a just community

On Saturday, Dec. 21, the sun will shine for a moment directly on the Tropic of Capricorn, and the North Pole will be aimed the farthest from the sun. Here in Portland, we will experience the shortest day and the longest night of the year.

There will also be a chance for participants to sign up if they want to become involved in advocacy projects.
Vigil for people who died homeless to bring together housed and unhoused
 https://news.streetroots.org/2019/12/20/vigil-people-who-died-homeless-bring-together-housed-and-unhoused

The winter solstice is also a day of nationwide remembrance known as the National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. For the past 30 years, people experiencing homelessness, advocates and community leaders have gathered on this day across the country to remember those who died homeless.

This year, an outdoor vigil is planned from 3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade at Southeast Salmon Street. The public is invited to attend. This vigil is aimed at creating both a space for mourning those who lost their lives on the streets this past year and a call to action to keep people safer in the coming year.

Sandra Comstock is one of the core planners. She is a Portland-based sociologist and homeless advocate who is part of several organizations including Right 2 Survive Too  https://www.right2survive.org/ and the Central Eastside's Compassionate Change and Dignity Coalition.  https://ccdpdx.org/ She is also the executive director of Hygiene4All,  https://www.h4apdx.org/ a proposed houseless-led hygiene, sanitation and safety hub.

Comstock said the concept of this year's vigil was developed through meetings with focus groups composed of people experiencing homelessness.

"One of the reasons we want to hold the vigil by the Vera Katz statue is so we can have a lot of unhoused folks join us," Comstock said. The underpasses and bridges of the Central Eastside Industrial District are currently sheltering many homeless people.

The planning group will use a form of street theater to underscore the realities of homelessness. Participants will enact Las Posadas, a 400-year-old tradition from Mexico that features a dramatization of the house-to-house journey of Mary and Joseph to seek a place of refuge for the birth of the Christ child.

"Our idea is for the crowd to move to different stations," Comstock said. "At the first one, our unhoused participants will ask, 'Can we use the bathroom?' The answer will be no. We go on to the next station. 'May we sleep here tonight?' No, you can't sleep here. The next one is 'Can we serve soup to our friends in the park?' No, you need a permit."

Following the enactment, there will be first-person testimonials.

"Then we will name our neighbors who have died on the streets, and we will ask for a commitment to building a just community where the right to rest, to use a clean bathroom and to live in community is not disputed or disrupted," Comstock said.

The perils of sweeps - when officials clear camps and remove the belongings of people living on the street - will be a main focus of the vigil.

"There are a lot of medically fragile people out there. Being moved, losing medications, the mental and physical stress can be life-threatening," Comstock said. "Ten percent of the population is swept on a weekly basis."

** DIRECTOR'S DESK | https://news.streetroots.org/2019/06/07/coming-terms-our-societal-sepsis | There are a lot of ill people surviving on the streets, and they are being left behind

Vince Masiello, a Street Roots vendor and co-organizer of the vigil, has been instrumental in organizing houseless participants.

"The lack of access to safe sleep and the action of sweeps are, in my opinion, directly related to physical and mental health problems, and have caused deaths," he said. "I know of one person in particular who lost her life because her medications were taken in a sweep."

Masiello believes the vigil is a great opportunity to bring together the housed and unhoused community.

"At a time like the holiday season when people are most benevolent and in the spirit of sharing, we hope they can reframe their understanding of people's struggles and sympathize with their plight," he said.

There is a large consortium of organizations supporting the vigil, including Sisters Of The Road,  https://sistersoftheroad.org/ JOIN,  https://joinpdx.org/ Rahab's Sisters,  https://rahabs-sisters.org/ Outside In,  https://outsidein.org/ and Right 2 Survive Too  http://www.right2survive.org/ St. Mark's Lutheran Church is one of the main sponsors of the event for the second year in a row. Community organizer Katy Rustvold said she is grateful to the church for leading the way with a compassionate response to the homeless crisis.

Rustvold is working closely with the church to collect life-saving supplies to give out to people following the vigil. She feels strongly about the importance of public lamentation.

"Naming people is powerful," she said. "Last year when we did this, we had a list of 60 names. A bell rang after each name. These are people who don't get a formal funeral, many die unknown. This is a chance for those who don't have resources, who have loved people who died on the street, to have a memorial service for them."

** DOMICILE UNKNOWN: https://news.streetroots.org/2019/10/16/we-value-lives-all-92-who-died-homeless-2018 | We value the lives of all who died homeless in 2018

There will also be a chance for participants to sign up if they want to become involved in advocacy projects.

Comstock believes the vigil also provides an important way to highlight policies that can contribute to needless deaths.

"Hopefully we will get people thinking about the fact that these deaths aren't inevitable. Many are very much the result of broken policies," she said.

"We have to challenge people," said Isaac Perez, a former employee of Sisters Of The Road, who is helping set up the vigil. "This is what we're fighting for. People are dying. This is serious. It will just continue; there won't be a change unless people feel it and understand. We need to help each other. We are brothers and sisters."

Dec. 21 is not only the longest night of the year; it also marks the beginning of a gradual return to light-filled skies. With return of the light comes hope.

"What I love about Portland," Comstock said, "is how there are lots of organizations working together, lifting up the voices of everyone."

"If we all unite, we are strong," Perez said.

Street Roots is an award-winning, nonprofit, weekly newspaper focusing on economic, environmental and social justice issues. Our newspaper is sold in Portland, Oregon, by people experiencing homelessness and/or extreme poverty as means of earning an income with dignity.
by Helen Hill | 20 Dec 2019

 https://news.streetroots.org/2019/12/20/vigil-people-who-died-homeless-bring-together-housed-and-unhoused

Street Roots is an award-winning, nonprofit, weekly newspaper focusing on economic, environmental and social justice issues. Our newspaper is sold in Portland, Oregon, by people experiencing homelessness and/or extreme poverty as means of earning an income with dignity. Learn more about Street Roots. Support your community newspaper by making a one-time or recurring gift today.
2019 Street Roots. All rights reserved. | To request permission to reuse content, email  editor@streetroots.org or call 503-228-5657, ext. 404.

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