People attend a candlelight vigil Thursday night near Veterans Memorial Bridge on Route 2 in Mexico to shine a light on homelessness in rural areas. About 20 people participated in the vigil organized by River Valley Recovers Strong. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

MEXICO — A candlelight vigil to shine a light on the homelessness population in rural areas drew up to 20 people Thursday night near Veterans Memorial Bridge on Route 2.

River Valley Recovers Strong, a group formed last year through the Larry Labonte Recovery Center in Rumford, organized the gathering to also inspire people to help those in need.

Glenn Gordon, who works at Oxford County Mental Health Services and is the Oxford County liaison for Prevention Through Intensive Outreach Naloxone and Safety, estimates that up to half the people they have contact with have housing issues.

“They might be here and camping outside, and it’s getting towards winter, or they might be couch surfing and don’t have a stable place to live,” he said. “It’s hard for anybody to gain traction or get help with bigger issues if they don’t have some place to live. How can you get a job or access to treatment and resources without a place to live?”

He said the River Valley area is not like an urban setting where there are groups of people camping out.

“Here in the rural areas, it’s a lot more difficult,” he said. “Law enforcement has been effective in kind of moving people along, so nothing really develops for too long. Most people who are camping out around here are camping at a place for a couple days or a week or two because they are not allowed on public property, so it’s hard to keep track of them and hard for us to keep in contact with them, too, to try to help them move to something new.”


Gordon also networks with Courtnie Lovely-Young, who works to end homelessness for individuals, families and communities and is outreach case manager for Rumford Group Homes Inc.

“She works with people who specifically are living outside or in cars, and she tries to help them and keep in contact with them, and to get them into housing,” Gordon said. “She’s got the backup of staff of Rumford Group Homes who know the landlords and who work to create those relationships to be able to say here’s where we’ve got places.”

“That’s the biggest thing that’s happened over the past few years, this networking together,” Gordon said. “Without it, we wouldn’t have any success.”

Rumford Group Homes is a community-based nonprofit social service agency serving abused, neglected and homeless youth and their families with an emphasis on Oxford, Androscoggin and Franklin counties, according to its website.

Seth Fournier, who works with the recovery center at 412 Waldo St. and is a member of River Valley Recovers Strong, said,  “We have people who come in and are on disability or Social Security, but because they don’t have a residence, they have trouble getting their check on a regular basis. And it’s a complete struggle for them, and whatever they do have isn’t safe. They’ll have their backpack stolen or whatever and they’re coming in starting from scratch today. We’ll get them going and three weeks later, they’re back with the same thing because somebody grabbed their stuff.”

After the vigil, six people walked a well-worn path beneath the bridge near the Androscoggin River to where police said homeless people stayed during the summer. The group collected eight to 10 bags of debris, including used syringes, and sat around a fire pit listening to Bob Irish play his guitar.

Afterward, they camped there for the night in observance of Youth Homelessness Awareness Month. Besides Irish, Gordon and Fournier were Trey Ames, Wyatt Berry and Clayton Zeller.

Fournier recommends people continue to use the recovery center as a clearing house for information for their needs.

Participants in a vigil to increase awareness of homelessness gather around a fire pit Thursday night beneath Veterans Memorial Bridge on Route 2 in Mexico. The group, which includes Trey Ames, Wyatt Berry, Bob Irish, Seth Fournier, Clayton Zeller and Glenn Gordon, camped there overnight in observance of Youth Homelessness Awareness Month. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

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