A rite for the homeless who died Candles lighted at basilica for 13 dead.

April 18, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

For the Rev. Tom Bonderenko, homeless people are like lighted candles that brighten a home but are taken for granted.

"A lighted candle is something we take for granted," Bonderenko, director of Our Daily Bread soup kitchen on Franklin Street, said last night at a memorial service for the homeless who died this winter.

"We see light all the time, yet it gets consumed and burned out and we replace it. Homeless people are taken for granted, too," he said.

Bonderenko, a Roman Catholic priest, said a passer-by sees the same homeless person frequenting the same spot daily. Then one day, the passer-by will see a different homeless person in that spot. But nothing else changes, he said.

"The homeless become somewhat nameless and faceless," Bonderenko said.

At the memorial service, held at the Basilica of the Assumption at Cathedral and Mulberry streets, Bonderenko and about 70 others remembered 13 homeless people who they said died during the winter in Baltimore.

"Tonight, we remember these men and women who have met death," Bonderenko said, adding that although they're gone, their spirits live on.

"A person's life does matter," he said. "You will not leave this earth unnoticed or unwanted."

The memorial service "is our way of advocating for the needs of the homeless in a creative, non-violent way," Bonderenko said.

A candle was lighted for each of the 13 dead. They were Charles, 34; Joseph, 41; Jerma, 40; Larry, 32; Eugene, 64; Patton, 34; Mac, 54; Jerome, 46; Gene, 42; Robert, 50; Fern, 54; Norman, no age; and John, no age.

Singers Darryl and Jane Matarozza sang a song they wrote about the plight of the homeless, "A Better Place To Be." The couple also wrote "Santa Can U Bring My Daddy Home" last year.

One of the dead, Fern, often lived in hotels and motels. One day last year, she had a heart attack and died in a hotel room. She had no family, Bonderenko said.

"She was a woman in her 50s. She had been homeless for a good number of years," he said.

In Baltimore, although no one seems to know for certain how many homeless people have died, Bonderenko estimates the deaths at about 100 since 1986. During 1989-1990, between 22 and 24 died, he said.

But the question of accuracy looms large. "It's not easy information to keep," said Norma Pinette, director of Action for the Homeless.

The fear of dying on the streets is something Roland Crooms, 36, says he worries about daily.

When the memorial service ended, he said, he will search for an abandoned house to sleep in because the shelters and missions were either closed or filled up. He said he's been homeless for three months.

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