Around 200 people gathered in front of City Hall for a memorial Monday night, Dec. 21, with only candles lighting their faces as more than 30 names were read.
Each name belonged to someone who died in this community in 2014 or 2015, and who had been homeless at some point in life.
The group gathered on the solstice, the longest night of the year, to honor those who don’t have a home to sleep in, and whose hard lives on the street can lead to premature death.
The ceremony, hosted by the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness, was brief, starting with an opening convocation: “May we be ever mindful that each of those we remember tonight are brothers and sisters. Those known to us, and unknown, had a face and a name and a right to live with dignity.”
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Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville read a mayoral proclamation to honor the day, dubbed National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.
I always just start with make eye contact, smile, and be a good human being.
on how to start helping
As mayor, she proclaimed Dec. 21, 2015, “a day of observation and mourning for those who have died while homeless, to remember those we have lost, and to encourage citizens to come together to celebrate their lives by working to resolve the factors that lead to homelessness in Bellingham.”
“All Time Low”
After the list of names was read and closing words were said, Jacob Arroyo, a 22-year-old man who said he had been in and out of housing since moving to Bellingham four years ago, sang his rendition of “All Time Low” by The Wanted for the crowd.
Richard Pishner, an 18-year-old who just moved to town and happened upon the ceremony, thanked Arroyo for his honest voice.
Arroyo had broken a string while practicing just beforehand, and had considered not coming to the event.
“I’m glad I showed up,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo typically plays in front of Man Pies on Railroad Avenue because he likes the acoustics in the parking garage there.
He was asked to perform by Kate Robertson, who, along with Theresa Meurs, works with the community on the Homeless Outreach Team to help people stay connected and sign up for services.
“She’s been helping me for quite a few years,” Arroyo said. “My housing just came in. They’re going to pay my deposit and half my first month’s rent.”
Arroyo figured that, coupled with a few more months of assistance, would be enough to help him get on his feet and find a job.
What can we do?
Robertson and Meurs were some of the last people to stick around after the memorial, briefly catching up with Tara Perry, who teaches communication studies at Western Washington University.
Perry’s fall class worked on projects under the umbrella of “End Homelessness WWU,” in partnership with Meurs and Robertson.
Robertson said she hopes the community can collaborate on more ideas, bringing in students such as Perry’s class, and other people to work on the issue.
She said she felt an energy in the community coming out of the “Homeless in Bellingham” film series, which depicts the stories and lives of local people.
Out of that, Robertson said, people have been asking, “But what can we do?”
“I always just start with make eye contact, smile, and be a good human being,” Robertson said.