(HELENA) The winter solstice is the longest night of the year. For more than a decade, leaders in the Helena community have marked that date by bringing attention to the needs of the homeless.
More than two dozen people gathered in Women’s Park Thursday for the annual Longest Night Memorial, hosted by YWCA Helena. Gov. Steve Bullock and Mayor Jim Smith were in attendance, along with county commissioners, local lawmakers and representatives from community service organizations.
Organizers said Thursday’s cold temperatures emphasized why the event is so important.
“It’s easy to think about the homeless when it’s warm outside,” said Abigail St. Lawrence, a YWCA Helena board member and chair of the group’s Social and Racial Justice Committee. “We need to be thinking about them when they’re in conditions like today, where it’s dangerous to be outside.”
During the memorial, Bullock read off the names of eight people who passed away in the past 12 months while homeless. Participants placed a red rose in honor of each one.
“Each year, I certainly hope that we won’t have to have another memorial for homeless that have died in this community over the last year, but we continue to come,” Bullock said.
Bullock said more still needs to be done to address homelessness, but he praised organizations that are already working with those affected.
“We have great groups, from God’s Love to the YWCA, Friendship Center, Food Share, that really work with folks all across this community to try to give folks a little bit extra help and assistance,” said Bullock.
Those who attended the memorial said they want to make clear that people who are homeless are not forgotten.
“The message today is to urge people to be aware and to get involved in solving it, because we can only solve it when we all work together,” said St. Lawrence.
The YWCA will try to work toward some possible solutions for homelessness in the Helena area next month. The group will hold a community meeting Jan. 11 at noon. Anyone who wants to take part is asked to contact program director Kiley Gage at email@example.com by Jan. 4.