Elice Stohl (left) and Linda Safley listen to Lester Paradise… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
His fellow homeless never knew his last name, but they were fairly certain he was a combat veteran. They called him "One-Eyed Rick."
Sue Bull, Baltimore County's homeless coordinator, met him during the annual count of the homeless in January.
"He just invited me into his tent and offered me a crate to sit on," Bull said. "We had a friendly conversation."
Rick died on a train track in Essex, one of 16 homeless people in the county who lost their lives in 2010. He had been drinking and was listening to music on earphones. He never heard the train, friends said.
A crowd of about 60 remembered the 14 homeless men and two women at the county's third annual vigil Tuesday night, on the longest day of the year. They read their names, often just their first names or sometimes just a nickname. Many jurisdictions across the nation, including Baltimore City and Harford County, held similar memorials Tuesday night.
"In a perfect world, we would have no reason to be here tonight," said Lester Paradise, a resident of the county's Westside Men's Shelter. "We thank you for what you have done and ask you to do what you can to help."
At Calvary Baptist Church in Towson, Paradise recounted what he knew of the those "who had walked among us." There was Joe Kelly, the shelter's chess master, who overdosed in a motel room, and Kenny, who refused to come in from the cold and died of hypothermia.
"This service helps us come to terms with these losses," said John Brown, the men's shelter supervisor. "We look at each other as family."
Dr. Kelechi Uduhiri, director of Healthcare for the Homeless in the county, said she witnesses daily the impact of homelessness. Her youngest patient is a 5-week-old who came to the shelter with his mother from the hospital, where he was born. Nearly 900 children lived in county shelters this year.
"Homelessness affects us all and has a common face," Uduhiri said. "It is not all right for homelessness to exist in our county. Each of us should ask what can we do so that the lives we honor tonight did not die in vain."
At the end of the service, the crowd held small candles and marched silently to the county's homeless memorial across Pennsylvania Avenue from the county offices and courthouse.
Many shivered in the cold as the service ended with a reading by Emily Dickinson:
"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain."