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On the longest night, remembering the homeless

In Towson and elsewhere, advocates for the homeless remember those who have died over the past year

As the gray December sky darkened Monday to begin the longest night of the year, people around the region paused to remember those who live on Maryland streets.

In Towson, dozens of advocates for the homeless gathered in a church and recited the names of 22 homeless people who have died in Baltimore County this year. They carried candles down the street to a small brick memorial that notes a tally of homeless who have died in recent years.

"In many cases, this service will be the only commemoration of their lives," said the Rev. Kristofer Lindh-Payne, who led the Towson service at Calvary Baptist Church.

Memorials for the homeless are often held near the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year, marking the beginning of winter.

The National Coalition for the Homeless reported there were more than 180 events scheduled around the country to remember the homeless. Other local ceremonies were held in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford counties.

Statewide, it's estimated that more than 7,800 people are homeless, according to Journey Home Baltimore, a coalition of public and private groups working to end homelessness. Nearly 35 percent of all homeless people — more than 2,700 — are in Baltimore.

Baltimore County has been holding memorial services for the homeless since 2008. County officials estimate about 550 people live in shelters or on the streets on a typical night.

Government and nonprofit shelters and housing programs have expanded in recent years in the county, which recently replaced its 150-bed Westside Men's Shelter in Catonsville. Construction is underway on a new $25 million Eastern Family Resource Center in Essex too.

Yet there still are not enough emergency and affordable housing options, said the Rev. Fred Weimert, a retired pastor who is president of the Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless.

"There are so many people in society who have a hard time making it," he said.

In Havre de Grace on Monday, about 40 people gathered at a park to remember the 13 homeless people who died in Harford County this year.

"We are all members of this community," said Len Parrish, director of the Harford County Department of Housing and Community Development. "It is important to recognize and pay our respects to those who are often overlooked and forced to live in the shadows of our communities."

Sloane Redd, 22, who lives at Welcome One Emergency Shelter in Belcamp, remembered Catherine Bridges, a fellow shelter resident who died.

"I thought it would be a good idea to come out here and pray for her and make sure her soul is OK," said Redd, who said he has taken community college classes and plans to move in with her brother in Baltimore next month. She said she hopes Bridges is "closer to God."

"It's always good to pray for people," she said.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter David Anderson contributed to this article.

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