Remembering Allen Charette, who died alone and unhoused in Woonsocket
Allen Charette was found dead in Woonsocket’s Social Park on Sunday morning. Unhoused, Allen had dealt with substance use issues for years. He received treatment for frostbite exposure to his hands the week before he died.
On Sunday morning night Allen died on a bench, alone. Allen is not the first to die outside and alone in Rhode Island, or even in Woonsocket, this year. At Monday evening’s meeting of the Woonsocket City Council we learned that Allen had interviewed for an apartment and was weeks away from stable housing. The possibility of housing, however, came too late to save his life.
Around 50 people attended a vigil Tuesday evening. It was cold, with a constant breeze stripping heat from people’s bodies; and it was emotional, with tearful words from the people who knew Allen recollecting how kind and generous he was. The vigil took place in the Main Street Mini Park located at the corner of High and Main Street beside the Woonsocket City Hall.
“This has been a particularly hard week for our community here, but seeing all of you are in support is helping me feel that I can get through and push through and that we might have enough people in our corner to o something about this,” said Christa Thomas-Sowers, a Community Outreach Coordinator with the Community Care Alliance (CCA), which works with unhoused people in Woonsocket. “As many of you know, housing insecurity in this state is at an all time high, and we recently, on Sunday, lost yet another community member to a preventable death that could have been avoided if there had been safe and local shelter for this person to rest his head. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given the opportunity to get the care that he needed.
“He was a really good and kind man,” continued Thomas-Sowers. “He was a soft-spoken and kind-hearted person who quite literally gave the shirt off his back to someone at our drop-in center not long ago.”
Allen’s caseworker wrote, “While I didn’t know the recently deceased for a long time, it felt like I knew him a lot longer. He was the kindest, most selfless, compassionate person I ever met. This person didn’t have proper shelter and lost his life. That could have been prevented.”
“Every time we lose someone, it seems, we’re planning the next funeral,” said Thomas-Sowers. “We’re holding space for even more grief that’s heading down the pipeline. Right now we’re holding space for Allen but we have so many more community members that have died, even in the last month… There should not be even one person sleeping outside in January.”
“He was always there for me as a kid “I looked up to him. He was like a father figure in my life. And my dad didn’t care about me,” said Katrina, a close friend of Allen’s. “Allen was a very loving person. He would have given you his shirt if you didn’t have one. He’s an awesome guy to have as a friend. He loved making sure all his friends were happy. What I’m going to miss the most is when we used to go to his family’s cookouts. I always had a blast going to it. He would roast a pig and it always tasted good. He also taught me how to make a campfire. He taught me a lot of other things too. I wish he was my dad instead of the jerk I have now…”
“He was the gentlest person you’ll meet,” said Dr. Nithin Paul. “No matter what was happening, he would never complain much. You had to pry things out of him. He always took things in stride and was someone doing the best that he could given the circumstances he was in…
“Are our leaders losing sleep over his death? Or is it it just another number for them?
“It’s really hard to keep doing this work, getting to know people and then losing them so needlessly…”
“You never stop loving someone. You just have to learn to live without them. Now I add you, Allen, to this list,” said Tina, a friend. “We are all made of faults, stitched together with good intentions. Allen had his faults, but he had a heart of gold for other human beings in need… Allen, you will be greatly missed, my best friend…”
“This isn’t right, it’s sad,” said Seth, a veteran of Afghanistan, currently experiencing homelessness. “We are part of this community, but to them, our existence means nothing. To allow this to happen – is outrageous. We’re losing good people. We’re dropping off, when things can be done… We’re a community. You want to just push us under the rug? Leave us out here? Nobody wants to do anything?
“Who do we hold responsible?” asked Seth.
“Mayor Lisa,” said a person in the crowd.
“I agree,” said a woman in response.
“There’s no support system. Where do we run to?” asked Seth.
“I’ve known Allen since March, when I went homeless” said a man who did not identify himself. “He showed me everything. The church, CCA, and how to live on the street. Here’s a man who had nothing but gave everything that he had to help me and my son… We’re still homeless but, that’s a friend. That’s a great friend…”
“He had a heart of gold, but he was a blessing,” said Penny. “He had a great sense of humor… But he also taught me to open up myself. He taught me not to be afraid. He taught me to be strong and to always share myself… I will always treasure him, and I will always be grateful and blessed to have been in his world, as he was in mine.”
Thomas-Sowers then read a list of people she personally knew who have died while unhoused in Woonsocket. She was assisted in reading the names by Axil, an outreach worker with CCA.
- January 10, 2023 Woonsocket City officials called out on ‘cruel’ homeless encampment eviction
- January 11, 2023 Woonsocket Mayor responds to accusations about homeless encampment eviction on conservative radio
- January 13, 2023 Exclusive: Uprise RI interviews those unlawfully evicted from Woonsocket homeless encampment
- January 21, 2023 Kim and Akim lived in tent in Woonsocket, until home was bulldozed by the City
- January 24, 2023 Special Report: RI’s Housing Crisis part 4. Bill Bartholomew welcomes journalist Steve Ahlquist of UpriseRI for an emotional discussion on the reporting he has done on RI’s housing crisis.