Posted on : Monday December 13, 2010

By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent

Concerned individuals to gather on the longest night of the year to remember homeless persons who passed away in 2010.

BALTIMORE—As much of the nation prepares to celebrate the holidays, on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 5:30 p.m. at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater (corner of Pratt and Calvert Streets in Baltimore), some will pause to remember friends and neighbors who paid the ultimate price for homelessness.

“This event has been held nationally for the past several decades, where people come together on the first night of winter, and the longest night of the year, to remember friends and neighbors who have died without a stable place to live,” explains Lindsey Shaffer, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware missionary for ministry evangelism in the area of poverty.

“I attended my first memorial service a few years ago, and the stark reality of life on the streets never truly hit me, until I heard the names of the hundreds and thousands of people who died on the streets that very year alone,” she adds.

“Poverty is not just a life issue, it’s a death issue. I cannot stress enough the impact of this event.”

This year’s memorial in Baltimore city is 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 our community.

There has been little Baptist support of this event, and Shaffer is inviting churches to step forward and serve to combat homeless issues. She urges BCM/D staff and churches to attend this event and show that “this problem is on the forefront of our minds, and we are set to take action.”

In Jan. 22, 2009, the Baltimore Homeless Services, Inc. and the School of Architecture and Planning at Morgan State University conducted a point-in-time census count of homeless individuals in Baltimore City.

At that time, they reported that the City of Baltimore yielded a count of 3,419 homeless individuals, a 12 percent increase from the 2007 Census. The majority of these individuals were single, African-American and male.

Of the sheltered homeless population, this census reported that 41 percent were females and 508 (30.5 percent) of them had children with them while in the shelters. A significant 31 percent of the sheltered population were chronically homeless with substance abuse and mental health issues.

The majority of the unsheltered individuals were males. A significant 47 percent were between the ages of 45 and 60 years old.

The report went on to conclude that among some of the places the homeless inhabited were public spaces, outside certain buildings, bus/train stations and hospital emergency rooms. A thorough site assessment of about 94 homeless territories revealed that the location choices were based on heat sources in the winter, privacy, safety and protection from climactic elements.

Sadly, these elements, among others, were not enough protection for the many who died while homeless.

“My goal for attending this event is not only to raise awareness about homelessness in our area,” Shaffer shares. “It is also to encourage action. We need to love our neighbors, even our homeless ones.”

To report the name of someone who died homeless in 2010, contact Julia Hartenstein at [email protected] or (443) 676-3573. For more information about this event, contact Shaffer at [email protected] or (443) 745-1534.