Candlelight Vigil Remembers Thirty-Three Homeless Lost to Exposure
The first annual Union County Homeless Memorial Day Candlelight Vigil was held December 21, 2016, at 7:00 p.m at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Springfield.
Erin Delmore of NJTV News covered the event and highlighted the difficulties that the homeless face especially during the winter.
The Candlelight Vigil was open to the public and was held on the longest night of the year and chosen as a time to remember all thirty-three homeless people who died during the past year due to their lack of shelter or care.
Community Access Unlimited, Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, Family Promise of Union County, HomeFirst, Monarch Housing and the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council organized this event.
Ms. Delmore interviewed Ramon Aponte who become homeless recently for the first time.
“It’s real cold out there. Last night I slept in the back of a church that’s helping me out. You know, it was cold. I had two blankets on me, and it was still cold. And I had this jacket on, two jackets on, and it was still cold,” he said.
The Vigil included participants from all faiths who are working to end homelessness.
“We want to give them some dignity and also raise awareness for the problem of homelessness here in New Jersey with the hope that people can band together to work to end homelessness in this county,” said Holy Cross Lutheran Church Pastor Dave Knecht.
Aponte spoke about the strength he gets from being at the Vigil and working with organizations committed to helping him.
“They give me strength, the people who are in my life now, that I was just talking to. They got me on my feet,” Aponte said.
The church community is trying to help Aponte stay warm and healthy. He’s on his way to a seven-day detox center nearby. Come February, he and his wife are expecting a baby girl.
“I think that’s my strength, my first child, and I’m just happy about it. You know, I just can’t stop crying about it,” Aponte said.
“You don’t see the homeless population until you go and work at one of the food shelters or the food pantries. Then you realize that these people that are hidden all day are out. It’s our goal to find a place for them to call home and to not have to be hidden,” said Temple Sha’arey Shalom Rabbi Renee Edelman.
Homelessness continues to be an issue in Union County and all of NJ. On the night of January 26, 2016, 513 people, including 62 people without shelter, experienced homelessness in Union County, according to NJ Counts, the Point-In-Time Count.
“My church participates in Operation Warm Heart, and our homeless guests are here tonight. So we’re out on the town, if you will. But they need a lot of help. I think during this time of year, it’s really important to think about those who are in need, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Zion Lutheran Church Reverend Carmine Pernini.