Homeless dead honored at vigil

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Lives of homeless people who died in 2018 were honored at St. James Cathedral on December 18. (Photo courtesy of IDignity)

Names were read one by one at the St. James Catholic Church on December 18. They weren’t just names, though, they were lives.

The Central Florida Homeless Person’s Memorial Service honoring the homeless population who died in 2018 was sponsored by IDignity Inc., Summit Church, Homeless Services Network and St. James Cathedral. The service was held three days before the winter solstice to signify the trials that winter and the dark bring to the homeless population. 244 people attended the service held on a Tuesday morning honoring the 81 homeless who lost their lives in 2018.

Candles were lit for each live lost toward the end of the service. There was also an opportunity for attendees to share stories about names on the list they knew. The stories told revealed that many on the list may have lost their lives, but found a home the same year.

“We do recognize those that passed that didn’t just pass on the streets,” IDignity executive director Michael Dippy said after the service. “But they were part of that designation that we consider to be homeless or having experienced homelessness and that obviously can dramatically impact your livelihood.”

Pastors and reverends from Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic and Presbyterian churches spoke at the service. Leaders from the Health Care Center for the Homeless, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness and the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida also spoke at the event. These speakers knew the homeless they were helping and in many cases were partly responsible for finding homes for those that came seeking help.

“There’s a certain dignity that happens when you’re not literally dying on the streets,” Dippy said. “Our community and our government leadership has made that a priority. Those that have a high lethality, get them housed now.”

The stories told of these people gave stories to the names, but Dippy remembers past ceremonies where the dead that were found had no names.

“When it’s names it’s significant because I remember the time when there used to be a lot of John and Jane Does when this first started,” Dippy said. “And obviously the role that IDignity plays is very significant about people’s names and the impact of being able to own your own name.”

The combination of names being read out one by one and stories being shared of those names gave the dead a memorial that they would usually not get.

“There’s love there,” Dippy said. “The idea that there should be people crying when these names are called is true, and it’s hard to cry for a complete stranger. The stories make it more human.”

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