By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
BALTIMORE—Doug Hamm kept an address to the patent office in his pocket, waiting for when his “dream would come true.” Angela Tomlin, despite being blind, was always seeing after others.
Patricia “Patti” Phillips just got married.
Lennard Rainey’s dining table was always set for guests. A dapple Larry Smith was known for wearing a three-piece suit.
Dwight Richardson tried to hide his sickness from others. Theo Corwin was believed to have been assaulted, dying from his injuries.
These men and women from Baltimore City, plus 80 more, were remembered in a special National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day service this past December at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Amphitheater.
Pairs of shoes, each with lighted candles inside them, represented individuals known by homeless service providers to have experienced homelessness and have died since last January.
Some died of chronic illness or acute conditions not treated in time. Some died on the streets or while staying in emergency or transitional shelter.
Some, like Yolanda Howard, lived in their own apartments. Howard was “thrilled when her housing finally came through,” shared an advocate. Sadly, she passed away one month later.
Some were able to reconnect with family and friends before they died. However, many died alone, and but, for a few, forgotten.
But on Dec. 21, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, homeless advocates read aloud each person’s name, and those gathered said in unison, “We will remember.”
Afterwards, Rev. Tyrone Mayo-Brooks, once homeless himself, commended each person to God.
This event has been held nationally for the past several decades to remember friends and neighbors who have died without a stable place to live, shared Lindsey Shaffer, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware missionary for ministry evangelism in the area of poverty.
She and five others from BCM/D churches were among the over 200 people who were there to remember those who paid the ultimate price for homelessness.
This year’s memorial was sponsored by Baltimore United Congregations, an interfaith coalition of clergy, laity and other individuals who meet regularly to unite in action toward the goal of providing religious communities with resources related to homelessness and other issues affecting the community.
Punctuated by the bitter cold, the memorial service occurred right before the holidays, which was apparent by the flurry of shoppers walking throughout the brightly-decorated Harbor. As Christmas songs played in the background, one couldn’t help but think about Jesus Christ, who at His birth was also homeless.
The Christmas songs faded as formerly homeless men ministered through songs of hope, and Rita Williams shared her testimony of homelessness and recovery. Her life spiraled out of control when she lost her job of 25 years when the company she worked for folded.
She knew there were services out there that could help her. “But pride kept me out there longer than I should have been,” she said. “It could have been me. You could have been lighting a candle for me.”
“One candle is one candle too many,” said Phil Williams, who despite having a job in e-commerce, is also homeless.
He says he has a “fantasy” about rehabbing the old boarded-up Planned Parenthood building and converting it to SRO (“Single Room Occupancy”) residences for the homeless community.
Even though Williams has “slept on a tarp in four inches of snow,” he sponsors two children in Latin America through Children International to help them in their poverty.
“There’s always someone who has it worse than you,” he said.
According to Baltimore City’s Homeless Services Program, it is estimated that there are 3,419 men, women and children who are homeless in Baltimore on any given night. Four factors are primarily responsible for homelessness: lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable health care, low incomes and the lack of comprehensive services.
Chronic illnesses, including substance abuse disorders and persistent mental illness, and other physical disabilities create additional challenges in resolving homelessness.
This side of heaven, our homeless neighbors and friends are always going to require our assistance, shared Shaffer.
She encourages concerned individuals to pray and ask God what He would have them to do to combat homelessness.
Perhaps the homeless man, Clarence L. McKnight, understood it best. Unable to fight his illness anymore, he found peace right before his death.
“I guess I am finally going Home,” he said.
To discover ways you can make a difference for the homeless community, contact Shaffer at [email protected] or (443) 745-1534.