For the 40 or so gathered in prayer Monday night, the bitter, subfreezing air whipping around the Capitol Square reinforced the plight of Madison’s homeless men and women. The group gathered just after dark on the longest night of the year at the shelter at Grace Episcopal Church, then processed to a bench on the east side of the Square where Dwayne Benjamin Warren, a 38-year-old homeless man, was found dead in June.
“People like Dwayne should be remembered,” said Todd Hunter, a Downtown attorney who became friends with Warren not long before he died.
The coroner’s office said Warren died of natural causes. Those who knew him said he suffered from mental illness and needed medical help, which he refused.
Though Warren isn’t the only homeless person to have died on the streets of Madison, his death drew attention because of its public location. It also raised questions about whether the government’s social services safety net could have done more to save him.
John Duncan said he attended the vigil because he wanted to raise awareness about the needs of those in shelters. Duncan became homeless after he was released from prison Nov. 3 and the halfway houses were full. He said the facilities at Grace Episcopal, where he stayed for a month before his family helped him secure housing, need renovation and many of the men there need drug and alcohol counseling.
“I wasn’t expecting to be in a homeless shelter,” Duncan said. “But everything happens for a reason.”
Vigils were held in cities around the country as part of National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, an event sponsored since 1990 by National Coalition for the Homeless. Last year there were vigils held in 100 cities calling for a commitment to end homelessness.