Our Pledge To You

News

BROWN: Homeless memorial service honors anonymous lives

Benjamin Soto Ramirez, a homeless man, was beaten to death in the 1100 block of North Ashland early Sunday. Twelve hours later, his blood had pooled in a nearby pothole. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

Benjamin Soto Ramirez was a late entry to the program for Tuesday’s Chicago Homeless Persons Memorial service at Old St. Patrick’s Church.

Ramirez, 67, was beaten to death over the weekend, his body discovered on the sidewalk near the doorway where he usually slept in East Ukrainian Village.

Most homeless people don’t die quite so dramatically.

They pass quietly, often out of sight, their deaths more likely an unconfirmed rumor to those who knew them on the street than the basis for a news story.

Many never get a funeral. Some of their bodies go unclaimed at the morgue.

OPINION

It was with that in mind that the annual memorial service was first organized in 2010 by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Ignatian Spirituality Project and Old St. Pat’s.

The service provides an opportunity to both pay respects to the dead and call attention to those who remain homeless.

The highlight of the program is the reading of the names of homeless people known to have died in the past year.

As each name is read aloud, a student carries a candle in honor of that individual to the front of the church. It can be an emotional experience.

RELATED: ‘They tortured him’: $1000 offered for info on murder of homeless man

I say “known” to have died because it’s not as if there is any official list. The names are submitted by homeless shelters familiar with the program.

It is understood that the list is not complete, which is why the candle procession always ends with a nod to “those whose names are known only to God.”

There are 33 names on this year’s list. Where possible, the organizers try to include at least a sentence about each person.

Marcus Faleti, an alcoholic who froze to death at age 58 in Wicker Park in early January, will be remembered as someone who “loved reading the Sun-Times and Wall Street Journal.”

Moriah Ishmael will be honored as “someone who was very respectful and a joy to be around. All Moriah wanted was a place to call his own.”

Will Kelly “was a good friend who helped many people.”

Wesley Sharp “was a kind, respectful and patient man” who will be “missed dearly by friends.”

William Carter died of cancer.

Durell Thomas “was hardworking and just looking for a safe place to stay.” Rhonda died of MRSA. Stanislaw Gal “left behind a wife and kids.”

But sadly even that scant information is often unavailable.

In some cases, all that’s known is when the person died: Ray W. and Nancy in January, Yacob G. in May, Leonard S. in July, C. Glover in August, John G. in September, Christina Kostoff and Patrick S. in October, Tommy Irby in December.

Then there are those who will be recognized only by name: Timothy Griffin, Henry Hartage, Terry King, Andre Perry, Larry Singleton, Angela Williams, Lewis Frost, Bethelynne Johnson, Michael Erl, Rick Berry, Barbara McHenry, Renard Parrish, Claude Michaelis and Kevin Lawson.

As someone who believes every person has a story to tell, that always bothers me.

There’s a common perception of homeless people as dangerous. Some can be, of course, but more often they are victims.

“Our guests are vulnerable. They are vulnerable in so many ways,” said Ed Jacob of Franciscan Outreach, one of the city’s leading providers of homeless services and a sponsor of the memorial service.

“It’s not just exposure to the elements. It’s not just the cold. They don’t have the stability. They don’t have the sense of security that you and I would have,” Jacob said.

Tonight’s memorial at Old St. Pat’s, 700 W. Adams, is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

I learned late Monday of another dead homeless man, Perry Brisby, 49, who was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Dec. 4 in the 2000 block of South Emerald. He died Sunday at Stroger Hospital.

They’ll need to light another candle.