Vigil Remembers Those Who Died After Being Homeless

by Ivan Sheehan

              Cleveland-area homeless people, concerned community members and service providers gathered together Tuesday, December 21, 2004, in the basement of St. Patrick’s Church to honor the memory of homeless individuals who passed away in 2004.

            The candlelight vigil, which was organized by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, has taken place every year on the first day of winter for the past 18 years. 2004 was the first year all the homeless coalitions in Ohio have participated in the event on the same day. Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati all held a candlelight vigil on December 21. The Columbus vigil was held on the State House grounds. There are 60 homeless coalitions across the United States that remember the deceased on the first day of winter.

            In previous years, the event was held at various locations throughout the city of Cleveland, including Public Square. This year, Brian Davis, director of NEOCH, felt St. Patrick’s would be better suited to the practical needs of the community.

            “We try to have it at a meal site to remember those who have passed away, and those that are still struggling,” Davis said addressing the crowd. The goal was to have the memorial service at a place homeless people can attend, and St. Patrick’s was an ideal choice because it has served a meal on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for years.

            Over 80 attendees, including two local news crews, listened as a gathering of religious leaders, representing a myriad of faiths, offered prayers as a memorial to those individuals who died in the past year.

            Deacon Joe Kovich of St. Mary’s On The Falls was the first to offer prayers of condolence. Speaking to the crowd, he offered words of hope for those who of have passed saying, “they celebrate with the Prince of Peace where their pain and suffering has now been taken away.”

            Janet Lyon of the Baha’i Faith followed Kovich and recited a traditional Baha’i poem. The Rev. June Begary from Old Stone Church then offered a brief prayer of remembrance.

            “We pay them [the homeless] dignity in this hour of sadness,” Rabbi John Caruso from Fairmount Temple prayed during his memorial reflection. After Caruso, Ivan Nassar of the Islamic Center recited a Muslim prayer typically offered before special gatherings. Doris Mathey of Urban Hope also delivered a poignant offering of sympathy.

            The Rev. George Hrbek of Lutheran Metro Ministry was the last individual to present to the ceremony’s attendees. His gave a spirited talk, moving back and forth and engaging the crowd. LMM takes over the largest shelter in Ohio at 2100 Lakeside in early January.

            “In God’s community the nobodies are somebodies, and the somebodies have to be nobodies to be somebody,” Hrbek said to the delight of the applauding crowd.

            More homeless individuals were remembered during the 2004 ceremony then ever before. The need for a drastic change in the current healthcare system was reinforced as Davis noted that homelessness is a healthcare issue, and it needs to be addressed accordingly as to avoid a nineteenth year for the somber ceremony.

            Mike Cook of NEOCH read the names of 40 individuals who died while experiencing homelessness (see below). Attendees were then invited to light candles, and publicly remember the names of anyone whom they had lost in the past year. In addition to the 40 names of the deceased, a special moment of silence was held in honor of the 10 homeless people the Cleveland coroner’s office was unable to identify.

After the candlelight ceremony had concluded, food prepared in St. Patrick’s social hall was served to attendees. The spirit of remembrance continued following the vigil. Faith leaders, including Rev. Hrbek and Rabbi Caruso, read the list of the homeless people who had died during religious ceremonies at their own places of worship.

Individuals Who Died During the Past Year

Because of Homelessness

Henry Bridges                                                           Lee Woods

Mark Moore                                                               Sammy Ford

Charles Wilson                                                         Charles Porter

Leonard Green                                                         Charles Wilson

Charles Pugh                                                            Bob Evans

Latara Walters                                                         Edward Buselon

John Robinson                                                          Tim Buzwell

Oliver James Jr. © 4/10/04                                       Charles Parker

Layton Terry McCulley © 6/30/2004                         Mark Moore

Darlene Schwan Lambert © 8/11/2004                   Theartis Miller

George C. Mahoney Jr.©                                          Al Young

Robert A. Cemes © 2/22/04                                    Gary Mianko

Tracey Dencign Patillo © 1/5/04                              Willie Smith

Dontae Kaiser © 1/22/04                                         Frank Stelarski

Phillip Lewis Johnson © 6/25/04                              William

Willie Smith Jr. © 3/31/04                                         Evelyn

Robert Cox 5/2/2004                                                Julio Medina

Bobby Alexander 7/2004                                          Lalya Medina

Joyce Mullins                                                            Mike from St. Patrick’s

Bruce of St. Patrick's

There were 10 individuals who died and were not identified by the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office

There were also two friends of homeless people

Frank Zuick, who coordinated the meal at St. Patrick’s

Daniel Thompson, who delivered bread to homeless people on the streets

Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #68, February 2005. All rights reserved.