Service honors more than 130 local homeless people who died this year

For many, December 21 means there are only three days left of shopping before Christmas and the start of winter.

For the homeless, it means the longest night of the year and the start of the toughest, coldest months ahead, which some will not survive.

Friday’s winter solstice marked the 22nd annual National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, honoring those who did not make it through the year. At a memorial service at the Church on the Hill on Beacon Hill, the names of more than 130 local homeless and formerly homeless people who died in 2012 were read aloud, a tea candle lit for each..

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Two large pillar candles were reserved for the nameless, the Joes and Janes Doe.

All along the small sanctuary were cardboard headstones depicting various hand-painted art scenes, each with the first name and last initial of homeless people who passed away this year.

“It’s important because we lose people to the streets,” said Michael Bancewicz, secretary at Church on the Hill. “People die from illnesses that are exacerbated from being homeless. The homeless want to celebrate their friends’ lives.”

After all the candles were lit, the multi-faith service was extended to read more names that were not originally on the list.

“There are always more names to be read,” Jeff Olivet told the crowd as he sat at the piano before singing a rendition of “Bourgeois Blues.” “This is also a day of anger. It’s a day of righteous anger, and of recommitment to the mission in front of us, the mission of taking care of those who don’t have a home.”