They made the darkest day of the year a little brighter.
A crowd of big-hearted Brooklynites lit candles on Dec. 21 — the shortest day of the year — as part of a ceremony to honor all of the homeless lives lost in New York City in 2017. Hosts of the somber Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day service, which took place at the Fort Greene campus of Long Island University, chose to hold it on the notably dark day as a way to highlight the daily struggle of life on the streets, according to one man in charge.
“For most people, the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, but when you’re homeless, every night is a long, dark night,” said Jeff Foreman, a director of advocacy group Care for the Homeless, which put on the sixteenth-annual vigil with officials from the like-minded do-good organization Urban Pathways and the university. “It’s kind of fitting to do that.”
Volunteers dished out hot meals to everyone at the event — including about 50 people either homeless or living in shelters — where the names of 188 people from across the five boroughs who did not have a place to call home and died sometime in the past 365 days were read aloud before more than 100 attendees. As each name was spoken, a bell tolled and a new flame was lit to honor the deceased, according to Foreman.
“It’s always a really moving observance,” he said.
Several people read longer eulogies for loved ones or friends, and those who gathered for the tribute acknowledged that the people remembered in the ceremony may not even account for all individuals who died homeless last year, Foreman said.
And the subdued evening, which ended with a spontaneous singalong of the late Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” was more than a mere memorial — it served as a wake-up call to help those in need, according to one volunteer who traveled from the distant isle of Manhattan to lend a helping hand.
“It was like a memorial service plus a call to action to continue loving each other, and to not forget one another,” said Timothy Wotring.