A wall for people who had no walls to call their own

On the longest night of the year, with temperatures expected to dip into the teens and the remnants of a weekend snowstorm on the ground, dozens will gather in sympathy for those who daily bear the brunt of harsh weather without shelter.

Baltimore County's second annual Homeless Persons Memorial Service will begin at 5 p.m. today at Calvary Baptist Church in Towson. Participants, several of whom are living in county shelters, will pray, listen to Scripture, poetry and songs from church choirs, and socialize during a simple meal.

They will hear one homeless man's story and will intone the names of the 12 homeless people who died in the county this year.

"This is our own response to a national movement on the first night of winter," said Caryn Koterwas, senior public relations specialist at Franklin Square Hospital Center. "The idea is to get away from the stereotypes of the homeless and start thinking about them all year long."

Near the end of the evening, the participants will each carry a small candle on a walk in the darkness. The walkers will proceed to a memorial wall that last year was only a design on a poster.

Greg Noplos, 16, built the 5-foot-high brick wall as part of his Eagle Scout project, but it also stands as a permanent testament to his empathy for the homeless. The service last year and a few volunteer stints at a soup kitchen inspired him, he said.

"When you get to know homeless people, you realize they are nice people just trying to get by," said Greg, a junior at Perry Hall High School. "The purpose of this service and the wall is to raise awareness so that people help out more, especially officials."

Calvary Baptist Church faces the county's administrative offices and several officials are expected to attend the memorial, which drew about 50 people last year.

Greg raised about $600 for the wall project, and a $1,500 grant from the Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless helped him complete it. He and his father did much of the labor, but he hired a mason to lay the bricks. He plans to add a plaque with space for the year and the number of homeless who died. And, before the service, he will install a solar lantern above the wall.

"Last year, we put candles in front of a poster," he said. "This year, we have a memorial wall."

In the spring, advocates will organize the seventh annual Rally for the Homeless in Towson, another event designed to raise awareness. More than 500 men, women and children are living in shelters across the county, with at least that number or more on the streets or in tent cities that have cropped up frequently in several areas of the county, officials said. The latest census figures show that about 3,000 people experienced periods of homelessness last year.

The service will conclude with a reception at Calvary Baptist Church, 120 W. Pennsylvania Ave. Information: 410-887-2886.