On longest night of the year, Brunswick remembers homeless lives lost

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BRUNSWICK — Monday night was unusually warm for the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.

But there was a chilling reminder at First Parish Church that even in Brunswick, people are struggling. About 45 people gathered at the church to remember the homeless who died this year.

Tedford Housing, a nonprofit that operates two shelters in town, has organized a memorial on the solstice since 2006. The 10 homeless people they honored Monday had used Tedford’s services at some point in their lives.

Similar vigils were being held in Portland and Lewiston. “Homelessness,” Tedford Executive Director Craig Phillips said at the service, “is not nearly as visible here.”

The numbers of people who need shelter are going up, Phillips said. For every seven to 10 new people a month Tedford is able to take in at its adult shelter, he said, the organization has to turn away 20.

For every two new families at the family shelter, another 20 must be turned away, he added.

Phillips said his organization finds out who has died each year from shelter staff.

“It’s word of mouth,” he said, since many of the deaths are not well-publicized. Before the service, Phillips had compiled information from the obituaries of the deceased he was able to locate.

Paul Bucklin, 30, was remembered as loving and kind-hearted. He volunteered at the Coastal Humane Society, and also worked for Sweetser peer services in Brunswick, according to Phillips.

He lived in Durham after graduating from Brunswick High School, and he battled depression throughout his adult life.

Randy Swisher, 32, was born and raised in Brunswick, and became the father of three. He was remembered as being devoted to his children, and an avid gamer and stay-at-home dad in his free time.

Robert Cole, 74, was born in Syracuse, New York, and was known as a boat builder. He was remembered as kind and thoughtful, with a “heart of gold.”

David Allen Dolan, 51, was born in Bath and attended Morse High School. He played guitar, and is survived by a son.

Phillips said he could not find obituary information for all 10 people whose deaths had been reported.

At the memorial service at First Parish, the Rev. Geoff Parker, as well as the Rev. John Carson of Elijah Kellogg Church in Harpswell, led the group in prayer.

“(Let us) walk toward justice, compassion for all people, shelter, food for the hungry, and hope for a hurting world,” Parker said.

The group assembled included representatives from  other social services agencies, including the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, and The Gathering Place. Church and community members attended, too.

Phillips said after the service that only a few in attendance actually knew the deceased.

After the service in the First Parish vestry, attendees lit candles and walked down to the gazebo on the Brunswick Mall.

They gathered in a large circle, and George Hardy, a retired clergyman, asked them to put themselves in others’ shoes.

“In the coolness of the evening … remember those with no warmth and no place to stay, but a few yards from here,” he said, sitting in a wheelchair in front of the gazebo.

Hardy ended the evening by reading the names of those who had passed away: Swisher, Bucklin, Dolan, Cole, Daniel Soto, Clyde Bailey, Pete Milliken, Mike Rollins, Tina Bracy and Karen Weller.

“May their souls rest in peace,” Hardy said.

Then memorial attendees slowly left, walking back to their cars and houses, safe from the longest night of the year.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or walter.wuthmann@theforecater.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Edited Dec. 29, 2015, to correct Clyde Bailey’s name.

Retired minister George Hardy of Brunswick, left, reads the names of homeless people who died in 2015 during Tedford Housing’s Homeless Person Memorial Service on Monday, Dec. 20, the winter solstice. (Roger S. Duncan / For The Forecaster)

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.