Saturday, Dec. 21, was the winter solstice – the first day of winter, and the day of the year with the longest hours of darkness. Each year on that day, people in Helena gather to honor those in the community who died while homeless.
About 40 people were on hand for this year’s “Longest Night” ceremony at Anchor Park. Organizers read out the names of 15 people who died while homeless this year in Lewis and Clark County. For each name, a candle was put out.
The event is put on each year by YWCA Helena and the United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area. It is one of many Longest Night memorials that are held in communities around the U.S. on the first day of winter.
YWCA Helena executive director Jen Gursky said she wants the event to bring awareness to the needs of those who are homeless in the community, but that the main goal is to ensure that these individuals are remembered. She asked the public to think about the “unseen” in the community.
“Remember to see folks that might be on the fringes of our society, the fringes of things that we would consider social strata,” she said. “To be seen and to be known is incredibly important in our homes, and in our holiday seasons, in our holiday festivities; but to know that people need love, people need warmth, and people need stability.”
Among those in attendance were leaders from the city of Helena and Lewis and Clark County, along with a number of local organizations that serve people dealing with homelessness. Gursky said the number of people at the event shows how many in the Helena community are willing to work to address this issue.
“It means that our community cares; it means that we have strong coalitions willing to do the heavy lifting to see our society change in really meaningful ways,” she said. “It’s really important to come together to really bring the focal point of the work that we do on a daily basis.”