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Bend ‘Longest Night Vigil’ honors 15 people who died while experiencing homelessness

(Update: Adding video and Burklo comments)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- On the longest and darkest night of the year, more than 20 people along with the Homeless Leadership Coalition honored 15 people who died this year while experiencing homelessness.

A memorial service for homeless persons was held for the second year in a row at Pioneer Park in Bend at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. According to a news release by the Homeless Leadership Coalition, 14 people have died in Central Oregon while living houseless this year. (The number was revised to 15 at the vigil).

“These are human beings that need to be remembered and honored,” said Donna Burklo, program director at the Family Kitchen in Bend.

Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang and Bend City Councilor Melanie Kebler spoke at the vigil, which organizers said represented the entire tri-county community and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

“We want to be able to bring people together and really have some moments where we are realizing the humanity of it all," Burklo said. “Homelessness is a cause of death. You know, in each case. was it the leading cause? Maybe, maybe not, but it is a cause of death. It is certainly a health epidemic.”

Below is the full news release from the Homeless Leadership Coalition:

All are invited December 21st from 4:30 – 6p for an outdoor vigil to honor our community members who have died while experiencing homelessness in Central Oregon this year. We will remember those individuals who are known to us and hold space for those we couldn’t reach. The true count locally is unknown, as housing status is not included in data gathered when a person passes on. To date, we have collected the names of 14 individuals who died this year while living houseless.

Gather - distanced and masked – at Pioneer Park in Bend at 4:30p for hot drinks and snacks. The service will begin at 5:15p. We request that for those who are able, please park in the Deschutes County Building parking lot one block away on Wall St.

This year marks the 31st anniversary of the National Coalition for the Homeless “Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day” which began in partnership of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council with three objectives: 1) to shine a bright light on the dark truth that homelessness kills; 2) to ensure that those who died are not forgotten; and 3) to mobilize action to end what is often a death sentence — homelessness. It is the second annual local remembrance event.

In Central Oregon, our Homeless Leadership Coalition members work in Jefferson, Deschutes, and Crook counties and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to prevent and end homelessness by improving regional and cross-system collaboration and coordination so that our communities will have a comprehensive response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible, or if it can’t be prevented, it is a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.

Longest Night events in other Central Oregon communities include the Annual Solstice Walk at the Sisters Community Labyrinth on December 21st at 6pm, where they will be "Honoring our Losses." The Sisters Community Labyrinth is located on West Hood Avenue, within East Portal, the US Forest Service site where Highway 20 and Highway 242 meet. People are asked to wear a mask and social distance. Please also bring a flashlight or candle.

The event in Bend is a collaboration between Storydwelling, the Homeless Leadership Coalition, REACH, Family Kitchen, Mosaic Medical and Central Oregon FUSE. A livestream option will be available on the Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Coalition Facebook page. If attending in person, please consider parking one block away in the Deschutes County Building parking lot.

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Jordan Williams

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