Executive Director of Morningside Shelter Josh Davis speaks about homelessness.(Chris Mays/Reformer)
Executive Director of Morningside Shelter Josh Davis speaks about homelessness. (Chris Mays/Reformer)

BRATTLEBORO - Before the candlelight vigil moved from Pliny Park to the First Baptist Church, there were some sad words said about the state of homelessness in the region.

"We have so much capacity. But it's also disheartening that we're talking about adding more shelter rather than more housing for people," said Executive Director of the Morningside Shelter Josh Davis. "Things don't seem to be going in the right direction right now."

On Dec. 21, there was a special vigil to recognize issues surrounding the homeless community. Although it was raining, a small gathering of people lit candles and heard testimony from those closest to these issues.

One of the volunteer coordinators of the Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center, Lucie Fortier, spoke of the need for more shelter. She is also a member of the Drop-In Center board.

"We opened up the shelter a whole month early this year. But we've already seen 72 people at the overflow shelter," said Fortier. "That's half of the numbers from all of the winter last year. This isn't even the halfway mark and we've already reached that number. This is really a disheartening thing for me to think but how many people are we going to see that are brand new?"

She told the attendees that the shelter volunteers were seeing more young people and new faces coming in this year.

One of the people that spent time in the local centers, who had been referred to as "Richie Rich," died in the summer. Fortier took a moment to remember him.

"Death does not occur just in the winter. It can happen in the summer time with the heat. That can be just as bad. Let's just remember these folks are sleeping in tents all year long," she added. "Not just the summer months and winter but year round, it's dangerous."

The group set out on foot to the First Baptist Church from Pliny Park thoughtfully singing with candles in hand. Inside, Pastor Sue Andrews discussed the issues surrounding homelessness further.

"They come to us and they know they are safe with us," said Andrews. "There's a home cooked meal and a lot of love that's shared. And I'll tell you as a pastor, they have taught me how to be a better person."

Anyone could become homeless, she continued. Some of those who come to the winter overflow shelter have college degrees and others have lost their jobs due to the economy.

Andrews explained that the church winter overflow shelter is wet, meaning that they don't turn away men and women who come in drunk or high.

She read letters from those who stayed behind the church doors, where the Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center organizes and the church hosts the winter overflow homeless shelter.

"Pastor Sue, please accept my apologies for being homeless," the letter read. "Why cannot the shelter staff treat us like humans instead of so much leftovers of people? I had a life and I fell into disarray. My mom was a fifth grade school teacher and my brother Mike retired as a general from the United States Army ... And I, am homeless."

Andrews described how people take much for granted in the world.

"I get up every morning and I am so blessed. I have a shower. I don't think about it. I have a stove. I can cook. If I'm cold, I turn that furnace up and boy, I'm warm," said Andrews.

Another letter asked Fortier to extend the hours of the shelter.

"Together, we are saving lives," said Andrews. "Together, we are sharing hope with people who sometimes do not feel like they have hope or faith or a chance to have a home. Together, we are doing the right things by getting together, uniting together and reaching out to those who are less fortunate than we are."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.