GREAT FALLS — Many people in Great Falls are still in shock after several assaults on homeless people in the last few weeks. First United Methodist Church in downtown Great Falls was the site of a silent vigil early Saturday morning in response to the attacks.
People gathered at around 1:45 a.m. to raise awareness and to light a candle and be with part of the community.
Vigil organizer Melissa Smith said they wanted to hold their "mustard seed vigil" so early in order to be present in the community along with the homeless and start raising more awareness on the issue.
“It just touched me so deeply that this was happening to people while they slept. You’re most vulnerable when you’re sleeping especially if you’re sleeping rough, outside,” Smith said.
She added the vigil is a first step in getting the conversation going and that showing unity and awareness is important.
“We wanted to come down here at a time in the morning and be with people who are on the street. There were about 25 of us that came down to start really coming together as a community. Because what’s happening right now is there isn’t a sense of community downtown and we want to create that and we want to create real solutions,” Smith said.
The church is frequented by homeless people regularly and has seen an uptick in homeless people seeking shelter and food. The church is happy to provide whatever people might need and is glad the vigil happened so it can help shed light on the situation.
Tim Ljunggren is an Episcopal pastor for the Church of the Incarnation just across the street from First United Methodist and helped put on the vigil. He said being there helped him see exactly what is happening in town and that he wants this to lead into more opportunities for change. He added it raised his own awareness to what the situation is really like downtown.
“I’ve certainly noticed an uptick not only in homelessness but also an uptick in getting more aggravated at the homeless situation and obviously that came to a head a couple weeks ago with the assaults,” Ljunngren said.
“I’ve never seen it at this level before. There’s always been levels of homelessness obviously and pockets of homelessness in Great Falls, but I’ve never seen it come to this. But that was neat to see, that people were interested in and concerned enough to come out at 1:45 on Saturday morning and to be there personally and to be a part of not only raising awareness but also being maybe a part of finding solutions eventually as well.”
Kevin Tapaha has been homeless for the last two months and ran into the vigil when he and his wife were out delivering blankets and supplies. He says he and his wife make rounds every night to ensure people are warm and fed. He says he was shocked to see people out at that hour recognizing the situation and hopes that more action like this is on its way.
“I’ve been out here just circling out every night checking on everybody, making sure they have blankets, water, food, you know. We hoard food and we bring it out to everyone. It’s a tough life out here but meeting up at that vigil was a shock. I did not know they were thinking about us out here like that. I thanked everyone at the vigil, and I shook their hands, and they shook mine and it was pretty neat to see that,” Tapaha said.
The vigil is a first step but there will be more to come from the community with a discussion on the homeless situation set to be held in the next week with vigil organizers, business owners, and other interested parties.