Homelessness is a very real issue in Chautauqua County.
According to reports from the Homeless Management System for Chautauqua County, from Jan. 1, 2011, through Dec. 31, 2012, there were 303 homeless families in the county. 41.3 percent of those families included dependent children, 20.5 percent had a disabling condition, 12.5 percent were military veterans and 3.3 percent were pregnant women. Seventy-one percent of the families listed their fixed address as Jamestown or Dunkirk.
Thursday night, the Chautauqua County Homeless Coalition honored homeless individuals who have passed away without recognition at its fifth annual Homeless Persons' Memorial Day at the St. Susan Center.
Area residents gather for a candlelight vigil outside of the St. Susan Center in remembrance of the homeless on Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.
P-J photo by Daniel Swanson
To begin the service, Vince DeJoy, Jamestown director of development, read a proclamation from Mayor Sam Teresi explaining the significance of the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day in the county, noting that every individual deserves the dignity of a home.
The service included a first-person account of homelessness by Jackie Goodlow, read by her daughter. Goodlow shared her life of abuse, drugs, panhandling and embarrassment, which humanized the topic of homelessness, yet also provided a message of hope. Goodlow has since built relationships with her children and grandchildren, something for which her daughter is thankful.
Dan Hinsdale, an area resident, also spoke at the service. Hinsdale has recently helped a man who was homeless for nearly six months transition into an apartment. As Hinsdale told the story, he said that it began at church, with his minister encouraging the congregation to pray, "Jesus, please help me and use me." In the weeks after praying the prayer, Hinsdale and his wife began repeatedly seeing the same "ragged" looking man around Jamestown.
Eventually, Hinsdale realized that the man was homeless. He crossed paths with the man outside of Everyday's True Value, standing beside a car that customers could enter a contest to win. When Hinsdale asked the man, "What would you do if you won this car?" the man quipped, "I would take care of it!" Hinsdale took the man inside to enter him into the contest and there learned his name.
Since their meeting at Everday's True Value, Hinsdale befriended the man and began helping him with the assistance of the Chautauqua County Homeless Coalition and other local agencies, where according to Hinsdale, he "found an angel in every (agency)." Hinsdale was able to help the man into a furnished apartment and receive proper medical care, including getting a needed pair of glasses.
"He has helped me a lot more than I've helped him ... I appreciate what I have now more than I ever have," Hinsdale said of the homeless man.
Hinsdale encouraged everyone in attendance to pray the same prayer he prayed.
Bill Vogt, Chautauqua Opportunities Inc. housing and community development director, concluded the service by noting, "These are not isolated incidents." He also mentioned to volunteers, "Your time, talents and resources are valuable and can be put to good use in Chautauqua County."
The event concluded with a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence.
Since 1990, on or near the first day of winter, the National Coalition for the Homeless has sponsored the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day.
Chautauqua County Homeless Coalition members include: the American Red Cross, Chautauqua Opportunities, Chautauqua County Department of Health & Human Services, Jamestown Department of Development, Dunkirk Housing Authorities, Erie 2 Chautauqua/Cattaraugus BOCES, Housing Options Made Easy, Southern Tier Environments for Living, Legal Assistance of Western New York, St. Susan Center, The Resource Center, The Salvation Army, Veterans Administration, Willow Mission and YWCA of Jamestown.