Those who died without a roof over their heads in Harford County this year may be gone but they will definitely live on in the hearts of those who attended a vigil in Bel Air Monday.
The 8th annual Homeless Persons' Memorial Service & Candlelight Vigil, held in the park by the Bel Air Reckord Armory, honored the lives of nine men and women who died "without a secure place to stay."
About 25 to 30 people attended the service, spearheaded by the county's Health Care for the Homeless Project and jointly organized this year by the Hope in Action ministry of Central Christian Church, which recently launched its Bel Air campus at the Armory.
"They are not just names. They are people who we all care about," Buddy Kauffman, Central Christian's pastor, reminded the group before he read the list of names. Patrick Doyle. Ralph Himmer. Eldridge Howard. Stan Kopacki. Shirley Mays. Hannah McLaughlin. Patrick Rich. Earl Rumsey. Warren Smith.
As Tim Lay, a Bel Air resident who was homeless for 17 1/2 years, pointed out to those at the gathering that compassion does make a difference in the lives of people who are often ignored or brushed aside by society.
Lay said he went to Baltimore in the past because Harford County had very few resources for the homeless.
"It's been a lot of help and changes in the county," Lay said. "Unfortunately, the numbers are increasing every day."
Kauffman prayed for the list of homeless dead to keep getting smaller.
"Let it shrink every year," he said.
To the program's list, Craig McLaughlin, of Bel Air's Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, added one more: Brandon Paulick, who died Sunday, the day before the vigil.
McLaughlin told the Bible story of Jesus healing a man controlled by demons and said he thanked God for those who helped his daughter as she battled heroin addiction and was trafficked to Ohio.
Hannah McLaughlin ultimately died in March, he said, noting the struggle to help those who are suffering continues.
"All you have to do is look at the current political climate. People don't understand why we help homeless people, why we help addicts," McLaughlin said.
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But despite the skepticism, he said: "We are called to never give up on anybody."
Liz Tutino, board president of Faith Communities & Civic Agencies United, said her organization has had close to 3,000 volunteers donate their time and help, and this past year, 62 shelter residents received, for example, needed medical and dental care.
"We do this through our dedicated and compassionate staff," she said, telling the story of one man who saw his co-worker die and ended up losing his job. While in the shelter, he experienced more deaths of people close to him.
"These are the stories that support us to continue our work," she said. "I told him, I love helping people."
Tutino reminded the crowd that help is available and the county should work toward offering more resources and more beds to house the growing numbers of homeless.
"There is hope," she said. "If you are homeless today, please know there are people who love you."
"We come together today to remember those who died and commit ourselves to the work ahead," she said, adding her voice to the ongoing wish that the homeless will be treated "not as a problem to be pushed out of sight but as an opportunity."