More than 20 people held a candlelight vigil Tuesday night to remember the three men who died in a Union Street fire last weekend outside the home where it happened.
Three people died after a fire in the condemned house at 194-196 Union St. in the early hours of Sunday morning — Andrew Allen, 56; Dylan Smith, 31; and Tim Tuttle, 28 — while two others were able to escape. Each of the victims was homeless, and the event has especially devastated Bangor’s tight-knit homeless community.
The vigil was attended by those within the homeless community and outside of it. Many knew at least one of the victims personally.
Martha Schoendorf, who is homeless and has recently worked to build recognition for the plight of Bangor’s homeless population, was a lead organizer. Several members of the Greater Bangor Housing Coalition also attended.
“People really wanted to get together to remember them,” Schoendorf said.
Each attendee carried a candle in a cup, forming a circle around one another as each spoke about the tragedy between moments of silence.
Pastor Terry Dinkins of the Mansion Church, a non-denominational church on Center Street, asked attendees to pray for the families who lost loved ones in the fire and called for churches across Bangor to open their doors to homeless residents.
“May this never happen again in our city,” Dinkins said.
Dinkins works extensively with the homeless community through his church. Its building has a warming center and provides homeless residents with food and clothes.
Dinkins had known Smith for about a decade. He used to go to the church’s warming center, the pastor said.
“He would do anything for you,” Dinkins said. “He was a guy that would be willing to pitch in and do whatever.”
Asked if different city policies could have prevented the tragedy, Dinkins said it was easy to play the “blame game,” but that Bangor as a community needed to solve this problem.
But others have connected the deaths to the city’s decision to clear a homeless encampment by the Penobscot River under the Interstate 395 bridge between Bangor and Brewer last week. At least two of the fire victims previously stayed at the encampment, according to people who knew them.
Bangor City Council Chair Rick Fournier said Wednesday that he had no comment on the fire until the release of the investigation report from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
Attendee Sam Cronk said the city of Bangor was not doing nearly enough to protect the homeless population and said that what happened was entirely avoidable.
The tragedy could have been even worse if more people were staying at the home, Cronk said. It was not outside the realm of possibility for 15 to 20 people to stay in a condemned home, he said.
“Many more people are staying in abandoned houses,” Cronk said. “It’s only a matter of time before we see something like this happen at another house.”
Amid rising homelessness, Cronk said a potential solution was to allow encampments in a designated area that authorities and medical teams could easily access, such as a spot near the Bangor Police Department. That way, homeless people wouldn’t need to resort to living in abandoned homes, he said.
City officials, including the council, said one of the primary reasons for clearing the I-395 encampment was because it was difficult for emergency responders to reach the area.