While urging the community to better care for its poorest citizens, the city of Key West, clergy members and the leaders of nonprofits that serve the homeless honored on Wednesday those who died on the streets in 2011.
Conducted for a decade on every Dec. 21 -- the first day of winter and the longest night of the year -- the island's Homeless Persons' Memorial Day this year eulogized 14 men who had endured life on the island's streets without a safe, warm place to call their own.
"They have paid the ultimate price for our nation's failure to end homelessness," said Sam Kaufman, an attorney and board chairman of the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC), one of the main sponsors of the service, which drew at least 65 people.
Thirteen of the 14 men named in the ceremony died while homeless in Key West, without blood relatives or friends able to accept their remains. They were: Alfredo Balcells, 81; Charles Linwood Brown, 56; William Constantini, 56; Jeffrey J. Hayden, 58; Michael Wayne Pierce, 51; Thomas Saviano-Finchum, 49; Arthur Dale Baker, 58; Daniel Clay Ratcliff, 50; Edward Botelho, 56; Charles Bruce Davis Jr., 52; Herman Lopez-Trigo Jr., 67; Marvin Allen Tinnell, 62; and Kenneth Neeley, 53.
"They are owed our respect and they ask us now to pass it on to everyone we meet," the Rev. Randy Becker said in his eulogy during the service, held in a grass walkway between rows of white stone tombs at the Key West Cemetery in Old Town.
"For too many there will be the longest night tonight," said Becker, of the Unitarian/Universalist Fellowship. "We are called upon to eulogize these lives by changing our lives, by never turning away from another human face or a simple request for love, care and attention."
J.T. Thompson, creator of the One Human Family motto, said there are many definitions of family.
"The souls we see here today are also our family," said Thompson. "They fell through the cracks and ended up without homes, the first step to a loss of health, self-esteem, relationships and even their lives. There are six degrees of separation between any one of us and any one of them."
Key West last year was one of 152 U.S. cities to sponsor events to honor those who had died homeless.
The service's program noted that some of the homeless who died in 2011 may not be on the list "as it is difficult to gain information on all who died. Some may have been overlooked; a sad reality of homelessness." Others may have yet to be identified, the program said.
"Each one had a personal history filled with joys and sorrows just like us," said the Rev. Thomas Sterner, a program manager at FKOC. "But many had no one to love them or to hold them or hug them."
Sterner expressed thanks to a higher power "for bringing them home where there is no more pain, no tears, no suffering. They finally have found rest."
Those who die indigent or homeless in Monroe County become the responsibility of the county's Social Services Department, which searches for next of kin and owns vaults reserved for their cremated remains.
"What they all had in common were lives deeply impacted by the scourge of poverty and homelessness," said Braddock. "One out of four homeless men sleeping in an alley, a doorway, or in a box has put on a uniform and served our country."
Story by GWEN FILOSA
Staff Writer, Key West Citizen
Video Shot and Edited by Digital Island Media