Remembering the homeless

Memorial service recalls 47 who died this year on the streets of Baltimore

December 22, 2008|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,brent.jones@baltsun.com

Wendell Mundrow knew him as Anthony, a fellow middle-aged man living on the street. Mundrow, 50, remembers sharing space at a lot near a downtown federal building two years ago with Anthony, where the two swapped stories about life and the circumstances that left each without a place to stay.

Last night, Mundrow attended a memorial service and candlelight vigil at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater for Anthony and dozens of others who died this year while living on the streets of Baltimore

"He died because he was homeless. He was great, a real loving and kind person," Mundrow said. "There wasn't nothing he wouldn't do in spite of his situation. He still went out of his way to do for other folks."

At a service punctuated by religious songs, advocates for the homeless read the names of 47 people who have died in Baltimore since January. Baltimore County held a similar memorial service yesterday at Franklin Square Hospital Center.

Advocates nationwide have observed National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day for about 20 years on or about Dec. 21 - generally the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. More than 100 communities were expected to hold events across the country.

The Baltimore service - organized by Stop Homelessness and Reduce Poverty, a coalition of service providers - was held, in part, to raise awareness of the city's homeless.

City officials have estimated that 3,000 people spend any given night on the street, and advocates say that about 30,000 people in Baltimore were without a home at some point this year.

Officials from Healthcare for the Homeless say that, statewide, about 50,000 people spend at least one night on the street a year, a number derived from emergency and transitional shelter data and the numbers of those turned away from temporary housing. Nationally, about 7 percent of the population will live part of their life on the street, advocates say.

The Rev. David Flaherty of First United Evangelical Church in Fells Point gave the main address at the Inner Harbor service, where about 100 people gathered.

"We can't fix this tonight, but we can stand still in the cold and dark and pray," he said. "But before we can do that, we have to remember these folks that in the city of Baltimore over the last 365 nights were not gathered in."

Mundrow said he spent about 18 months without a place to stay, starting in 2006. He said he is now off drugs and no longer is homeless.

"I got a lot of help from different places, but I didn't know about this [service] until somebody else that was homeless told me about it," he said. "So I just want to give back a little something."

James Crawford was part of a quartet that opened the service with song. He works for Bmore Housing for All, an advocacy group, after spending four years on the street.

Crawford, 56, grew up in Pennsylvania and joined the military after high school. He said he earned a college degree after being discharged from the military and eventually became vice president of an insurance company before injuries suffered in an auto accident put him out of work.

He said he eventually lost his home and could not get relief from the lingering effects of the accident. In 1999, Crawford found himself sleeping on sidewalks.

"I couldn't get any medication, so I turned to alcohol to try and ease the pain," he said. "All it did was make my life worse. But thanks to some good people and an act of God, I was able to get out of that."

Crawford said he stopped drinking and reached out for help.

A social services group helped find him a place to stay, and he was able to find work as an activist for the homeless. He figures that he is likely to be busy in the coming months.

"It's only going to get worse now with the economy the way it is," Crawford said.

He said that he would like to assist with a program that would provide work for homeless people through the rehabbing of houses.

Yesterday's memorial service showed that anyone can be left homeless, Crawford said.

"It puts a face on the homeless," he said. "Most people walk by and they see us, see people who are homeless, and think they're just a lump of nothing. But these are people, too. These are your fellow citizens."

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