JERSEY CITY AND BEYOND – Community activist Austi Valcarcel recalled the last time she saw Maureen Chesney, a homeless woman who sometimes accepted food from volunteer groups that feed the homeless population near Journal Square.
“It was on August 3. She said, ‘Thank you so much for feeding us. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ ”
Valcarcel appeared to have more to say. Holding back tears, however, she cut her remarks short.
Last night, homeless advocates and community activists held a candlelight vigil in Jersey City’s McGinley Square, just two blocks from the church steps where Chesney spent her last night before dying in her sleep. Several homeless people, and formerly homeless people, who knew Chesney also attended the vigil.
Chesney died in the early morning hours of Aug. 11 while sleeping on the steps of Old Bergen Church. Friends say she settled on the steps sometime after midnight but was unresponsive when they returned to her several hours later at around 8 a.m.
Chesney, 44, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“The average life expectancy for a homeless person is 47 years, 31 years fewer than for the rest of us,” Emory Edwards, executive director of Palisades Emergency Residence Corp. (PERC), told those gathered for the vigil. Chesney was sometimes a guest at PERC’s shelter. “Homelessness takes its toll. You can see how homelessness takes it toll when you have the stress of not know where your next meal will come from or where you will go to sleep each night.”
Oscar Lakra, another Jersey City activist said, “I don’t see homelessness as a disease. I see it as a test. I see it as a test of our community. I think the greatest commandment that we were given is was ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ ”
Lakra added that Jersey City residents must look for innovative ways to deal with rising homelessness in the community.
A formerly homeless woman who only wanted to give her first name, Stella, said she knew Chesney and sometimes gave her money for food when she could afford it. She reminded those at the vigil that many homeless people may need more proactive intervention and detoxification services before they can get off the streets.
“You got to get them off the street. But then we need more services to get themthe help they need so they can stay off the streets,” Stella told the Reporter later.
Homeless advocates Adela Rohena, Erik-Anders Nilsson, Esther Wintner, Imtiaz Syed, Riaz Wahid, , and independent congressional candidate Stephen De Luca also made remarks. Local bagpiper Jonathan Detres played “Amazing Grace” and “Going Home” during the vigil. –
E. Assata Wright