The names of the 37 homeless people who died this year in Baltimore County were read aloud at a memorial service in Towson Thursday night. It was one of a number of memorial services held for the homeless nationwide on the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year.
The dead remembered at the Homeless Person’s Memorial Service at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson ranged in age from 19 to 69. Organizers say it is the only service those who passed got to mark the end of their lives.
Megan Goffney, President of Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless said, “Our goal is to commemorate the lives of the mothers, the fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and friends, who have paid the ultimate price for our nation’s failure to end homelessness.”
Wade Pratt, who does outreach for the organization Prologue Inc. said, "I guess I just feel bad knowing so many of these folks are going to go without a service. Without anyone really thinking about or caring about them."
Pratt knew 10 of the people who died, some of them from drug overdoses or alcohol abuse. Pratt said one thing that would help to lower the deaths of the homeless would be same day service for people who want help with their drug and alcohol addictions. Pratt said currently it can take days or weeks to get someone help.
“And by that time that person may have fallen back into it and they’re just too messed up the even accept the help at that point," Pratt said.
Jonathan Rudie started playing the mandolin at the service six years ago. An elderly homeless man, a World War II veteran, had died. One of his few possessions was a mandolin. A few years before his death, Rudie says social workers were able to convince the man to get off the street and come into a shelter.
Rudie said, “And he became very beloved with all the workers, all the social workers. He helped to bring in a lot of people off the streets, a lot of other vets. A few years later he passed away. They wanted to honor him. They wanted someone to play his mandolin. And there aren’t that many mandolin players around. And that’s how they found me.”
Cynthia Williams, with the Consumer Advisory Council for the Homeless, read a prayer written by a member of the council.
“Watch over your children on this longest night of the year," Williams read. "Guide them to a place of shelter. Watch over those who have no home to return to at the end of a long and weary day.”
After the service, advocates led a procession a block to the Memorial Wall.
It is across the street from the Baltimore County Historic Courthouse. It tallies the number of homeless people who die each year in the county. 37 candles were put on top of the wall in memory of those who had died this year. Linda Lotz, Executive Director of Assistance Center of Towson Churches, said the homeless are part of the community.
"And they're important to us," Lotz said. "They're family. And we treat them with respect and dignity."
At the memorial wall, Fred Weimert read "The Litany for a Long Night."
“God of all, help to open all minds that we may recognize all people on the earth as your people,"