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'Longest Day of Homelessness' event aims to raise awareness

The annual event by Preble Street's Voices of Justice happens on Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Tommy's Park in Portland.

PORTLAND, Maine — Homeless Voices for Justice, or HVJ, will host a sit-out at Tommy's Park in Portland on Friday, June 17, for the Longest Day of Homelessness Solstice Vigil.

The goal is to draw attention to the growing problem of homelessness during any time of the year, and during the summer it's no different.

At noon, HVJ members and city officials, including Portland City Councilor Victoria Pelletier, will speak about their experiences with homelessness and the work they have been doing to address homelessness at the state and city level.

Representatives from Homeless Advocacy for All, Maine Equal Justice, Maine Green Independent Party, Maine Homeless Legal Project, Portland Public Health Harm Reduction Services, and Preble Street will also be there.

"Homelessness is not something that happens to a special category of people. It can happen to anybody," Jim Devine, an advocate for JHV, said. "As a matter of fact, to elaborate personally, during my lifetime I was a master electrician, I was a contractor, had my own company. So becoming homeless is not a typical experience for a person like that. But my struggle with alcoholism is what caused me to experience homelessness. Which is one of the reasons, one of the particular issues that I'm always advocating for specifically on a personal level is making sure recovery services are available to people when they need them." 

The sit-out coincides around the time of the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year. 

"During the summer months, unsheltered individuals are at risk of potentially deadly heat, dehydration, and exposure. The recent affordable housing crisis and lack of dignified shelter space has exacerbated this problem in recent years," said a representative from HVJ.

"Most of the people in this area really can't afford housing without subsidies. Subsidies are essential. So they are going without a lot of things because of housing, and if we could get it so that there was enough housing available at 30 percent of people's incomes, then we would be well on the way to solving the homelessness problem," Carolyn Sylvius said.

Credit: NCM

Community members are invited to go to the park Friday and share conversations with people experiencing homelessness. Everyone is welcome. 

HVJ believes that emphasizing the visibility of homelessness can serve as a reminder of the discussions, practices, and policies needed to keep Portland and the state of Maine a welcoming and inclusive place for all.

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