Vigil honors homeless who died

Vigil honors homeless who died

Last night was the longest night of the year.  It was also Homeless Memorial Day corresponding to the first day of winter.    All across the country there were candlelight memorial services to honor the homeless that died in 2007.   Many died unknown, others had touched lives while living and had many friends that cared.  Sadly, some are still out there in the woods somewhere covered in leaves or snow where they fell.

Most died without any particular notice or ceremony despite having been born into loving families, having brothers and sisters and other loved ones somewhere, most not knowing of the passing.   Some never loved and always negelected, some mentally ill to the point that no one was allowed near in lifetime, often refusing help.  So sad.  The following story was printed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper today.   I’m proud that someone took the time to record this service for the passing homeless.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 12/21/07

As the longest night of the year fell on Atlanta, about 100 people gathered on the edge of downtown Friday to light candles honoring the homeless dead.   In the chill of the evening, with MARTA trains rumbling by, they paid tribute to people most never knew.


Photo by Allen Sullivan/AJC   People gather during a vigil at Saint Joseph’s Mercy Care Services on Friday for homeless people who have died this year in Atlanta. Candles were lit for 55 people that died on the streets or in shelters.

Photo by Allen Sullivan/AJC    Sonja Mason (right) and others gather during a vigil at Saint Joseph’s Mercy Care Services on Friday.

“When homeless folks die, they just die,” said Robert Mason, director of community relations for St. Joseph’s Mercy Care Services, sponsor of the vigil, which took place outside its Decatur Street headquarters. “We want to bring attention to those folks who have passed in a quiet death and call their names.”

They sounded out 65 names in all- men and women who lived on the streets and in shelters, who were mentally ill, drug-addicted or just down on their luck.

Stacey Fortner

On a brutally cold day last winter, Fortner climbed a fence to huddle outside Central Presbyterian Church, where she often found friendship, doughnuts and hot coffee.

In her 40s, she was a “sweet lady” who was developmentally disabled, mentally ill and had abused drugs, said the Rev. Andy Gans, then director of the church’s outreach center. She was frequently robbed of the money from her disability check, he said, so she survived by prostitution.

Early one morning, Gans said, she told him she was tired of selling herself and tired of doing drugs. For hours he and his co-workers tried to find a rehabilitation program for her, to no avail. That evening, she stayed, as she always did, under an interstate overpass.

That cold day last winter, workers called 911 and sent her to Grady Memorial Hospital. Gans was with her when she died the next night.

Tim Green

Green was living with a girlfriend earlier this year after five years on the streets.   From 2002 until early 2007, he had stayed at shelters and had eaten in soup kitchens.

He had once abused drugs, said Al Wright, director of communications and security at Crossroads Community Ministries, Atlanta, but lately he was clean and sober.

On Oct. 17, Green came to Crossroads to spend time with Wright, who had known him for more than 10 years-from a time when Green had a job and a home.

“He sat here with me all day and we just talked and laughed and talked about old times,” said Wright, who added he believed Green was 43.  The next morning, Green was cooking breakfast when he dropped to the floor, the victim of an apparent heart attack. Efforts to revive him failed.

(…)  There are other stories and other related articles at the AJC. 

Next year maybe there will be more candlelight vigils.  I know there will be more homeless to honor – there always are.



3 responses to “Vigil honors homeless who died

  1. This is such an encouraging story, to know that there are those who are aware and care about the homeless. The more we talk, think, pray, and act, the more others will be given the courage to do the same. Thank you for a wonderful article.

  2. Thank you Steve for coming by. I love stories like this. It is why I’ve started the homeless ministry series – they are all feel good stories because someone is doing the right thing… caring for the homeless despite all that is going around them.

  3. My grandfather was homeless for many years. He was also a missing person for 40 years until I found him in 2002. He went missing from Texas in 1962 and dropped dead on Market St. in Pixley, California on Jan. 2, 1968. Cause of death: Pneumonia and pulmonary absesses. No relatives located. He was also a veteran of WW2. So many people look at the homeless and say, “Well, they made a choice to be homeless.” NOT TRUE! The homeless are the saddest of the sad. Due to circumstances, etc., they don’t know how to live a functional life and running from life seems to be there only way. Running towards something, but never finding it.Death is a gift for them. I know my grandpa found what he’d been running to and looking for the night he died on that street in CA. PEACE! Everlasting and eternal peace. Thank you, Oldtimer, for caring about those lost souls whom can’t find their way. If those judgemental people could walk in the shoes of a homeless individual just one time, they’d get down on their knees and ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy. Like Hank Williams Sr. said in his song, “Just thank but for the grace of God, it would be you, instead of them.” and “You haven’t walked in that man’s shoes or saw things through his eyes, or stood and watched with helpless hands as the heart inside you dies.” When I see a homeless person holding out a can for change or a poster for help, I think of Grandpa, and just pray that some kind stranger helped him out in his last days. I can’t help but give and just pray it’s going into the right hands. God bless you, Oldtimer, for your love and care for those lost souls.
    In Memory of William Ray “Bud” Peters Doenetwork Solved Cases

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