LEWISTON — It was raining hard and the wind was whipping on the longest night of 2018, but 12-year-old Cadence Carson didn’t complain once during the sloppy walk across the downtown.

She didn’t complain because her mother had taught her that there are homeless people on the streets who have to endure this kind of weather all the time.

Her mother, Danylle Carson, 37, knows a thing or two about homelessness — as a kid, she grew up in a protective custody situation and once spent the better part of the year on the streets of Portland.

“Obviously, when you grow up the way I did, you want better for your kids,” Carson said. “Without having to go through the trauma of being homeless, they can get that perspective and appreciate what they have.”

Carson was also joined by her son, Cohen, 7, as roughly three dozen people made the wet walk across Lewiston as part of a vigil to raise awareness of homelessness.

“Last year it was frigid cold. This year it’s a monsoon out there,” said Dan Gagnon, president of the board of directors at New Beginnings. “The message is the same. There are people out there who have no place to go.”

The vigil was sponsored by Lewiston-Auburn Alliance for Services to the Homeless, New Beginnings, which provides services for homeless and runaway youths, and the Lewiston-Auburn Multifaith Group. It’s part of a national movement recognizing the homeless on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.

“It’s pretty significant to think about the fact that a lot of homeless folks are spending the night out on nights like this,” said Carson, as she walked along the wet downtown sidewalks. “It’s easier to sweep it under the rug and pretend it’s not a problem than it is to address it. The best way for us to help is to raise awareness, and to stop tucking our homeless folks into the corners where nobody can see them.”

As it does each year, the walk began at Trinity Church, where prayers were offered for local homeless men and women who perished over the past year. Among them was Kimberly Dobbie, 48, who was stabbed to death in front of her twin sons outside a Lewiston laundromat on July 15. She had been living at Hope Haven Gospel Mission and was days from moving from the homeless shelter to an apartment.

The walkers then made their way down Bates Street, carrying signs and holding candles. A lone police officer in a cruiser rolled along next to them, stopping busy commuter traffic as the walkers passed.

Carson, now vice president of the board at New Beginnings, walked with her daughter while her son skipped ahead on the sidewalk. Her children had asked to come with her on the walk, Carson said.

Cadence, her pink coat soaked with rain before they had even reached Main Street, had taken a particular interest in the problem of homelessness, according to her mother. In November, instead of celebrating her birthday Cadence dedicated the day to New Beginnings, raising nearly $300 and getting hats, gloves and other items for the homeless.

On Friday night, though, it was mostly about awareness. Organizers hold the event during the busiest time of day, hoping to be seen by as many people as possible.

To some, it’s perfectly fitting that the weather is almost always nasty — either brutally cold or dreadfully wet — on the night of the event.

“The goal is for people who participate to experience what it’s like to be out on the streets in the dark and cold,” said Rachel Spencer-Reed, director of community services at New Beginnings in Lewiston. “You’re doing this for one hour. The homeless are often out all night.”

By some estimates, more than 7,000 people in Maine are homeless.

“If you take a stroll through Kennedy Park you will see people with sleeping bags,” said Giff Jamison, chairman of the Lewiston-Auburn Alliance for Services to the Homeless. “There is a visible homeless population.”

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