As they gathered to raise awareness about the homeless in Harford County, many people got a glimpse of what it meant to be without shelter Wednesday evening.
A light drizzle fell on the people gathered outside of Bel Air United Methodist Church to honor the six Harford men and women who died without a home in the past year and to remember those who still need help.
Craig McLaughlin, pastor of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air, opened the candlelight vigil of the fifth annual Homeless Persons Memorial Day, sponsored by the Sharing Hope Foundation and the Harford County Health Department.
Sharing Hope Foundation founder Anne'Marie Vomero-Battis welcomed visitors, mentioning they chose to honor the homeless on the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, to recognize their plight. The homeless memorial, she added, is to bring "attention and awareness" to homeless people in Harford County.
One of the many speakers was Joyce Duffy, executive director of Harford Family House, which serves families in Harford County. During this time of year, Duffy said, it's important to remember what many homeless families are going through.
"As we're thinking about getting the holiday meal together, they're wondering if they'll get any meal at all," Duffy said.
Duffy, like Vomero-Battis, stressed that to help the homeless, there needs to be a partnership, like McLaughlin's project, "One Church, One Home," which asks the churches of Harford County to team up to each help a homeless individual or family.
Although the evening was to remember the men and women who died, Patrick O'Neill, board president of Welcome One Emergency Center in Riverside, added that it was about "remembering those who are still here."
Welcome One has 28 beds, O'Neill said, and there is "rarely" a night with an empty one. Many of the homeless people in Harford County are in that situation because of simple life choices, he added.
"It doesn't take a lot sometimes to get these people back on track," O'Neill said.
A client of Welcome One was at Wednesday's vigil. Brian, who asked that his last name not be used, has been staying at the shelter for a few weeks and knew some of the people who had passed away. He came to the memorial out of respect for those who died and "to never forget," he said.
These men and women include Theodore Thatcher Belfit, Larry Wayne Crouse, Paula Leigh Graef, Stephen Spencer Groth, John Hall and Ronald Itzoe. Susan Graper, manager at Welcome One, spoke briefly about Belfit during the service.
Mr. Belfit was a "gentle soul," Graper said, and although he lost his battle, she told the crowd that his "dearest wish" would be for the homeless who are still alive to have a different ending than he did.
Prior to the vigil, Graper said she came to "remember those that we have not been able to help."
Events like the homeless memorial are important, too, she added, to motivate people to get involved with helping the men, women and children without shelter and to "remind the homeless that people want to help."