WILKES-BARRE – About 75 people came out Friday evening to remember 98 homeless people who have died over the years – nine within the past year.
After a memorial service in St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on South Franklin Street, the attendees took lit candles out to the courtyard for a candlelight vigil and necrology. One by one the names of the deceased were read and the candles were extinguished.
It all happened unnoticed in the shadows of busy holiday shopping as people and vehicles passed by. But to those in attendance, it was a ceremony much appreciated.
Names like Itchy, Peachy, Pinky, Shorty, Scrappy, Snowball, Grandpa, Mountain George and Big Jim were read – street identities of homeless men and women who are still remembered by their brothers and sisters.
These people died rather quietly and often times alone, said Monsignor Joseph Kelly, executive director of Catholic Social Services.
Gene Brady, executive director of the Commission on Economic Opportunity, said many homeless are our neighbors, friends, families, fathers, mothers and children. He said the reasons for homelessness are many – lack of income, illness, family issues, job loss and personal challenges to name a few.
Homelessness is a lack of a house, a lack of a place of comfort and rest, he said. A lack of hope and promise. The people in the room want to see it change.
Brady said it's a national problem in need of a national solution. He said on the local level there are many organizations available to help and he praised volunteers who meet the challenges every day.
All of our lives are short, said Dorothy Casterline, who has worked with the homeless for years. Take time to smile and say hello. Reach out to make the world a better place.
Stefanie Wolownik, former director of REACH, a homeless drop-in center that closed a year and a half ago, was corrected when she said six homeless people died since the last ceremony. Several homeless people attended the service and they told Wolownik that they knew of three others.
Tracking the homeless is a difficult task, she said, noting that many are living in tents along the river and in abandoned buildings. Others participate in structured programs like Mother Teresa's Haven for men and Ruth's Place for women.
The Times Leader on Sunday plans to present an in-depth look at the Wyoming Valley's homeless problem.