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Service honors homeless who died in Wichita

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, at 6:28 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, at 10:42 p.m.

At least nine of Wichita’s homeless died in 2013.

One was Thomas Wimberly, an 80-year-old veteran who was hit by a car as he walked across Broadway on Jan. 8.

John Harkness, 49, died at Central Riverside Park three days later.

Another, a young man named Christopher, recently was found dead in a downtown alley where he was camping.

Some had memorial services with family.

Others who were homeless did not.

For the eighth year, local homeless advocacy group Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness on Saturday organized a memorial service to honor homeless people who have died in Wichita over the past year.

The service is held annually on Dec. 21 – the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. The date also coincides with National Homeless Persons Memorial Day.

Denise Gunkel, an active member and former co-chairwoman of AECH, said the yearly remembrance provides closure to loved ones and friends.

Her own brother was homeless and was living on the streets when he died.

That year a similar service “warmed her heart,” she said, as her family faced his loss.

On Saturday evening at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 402 N. Topeka, coats hung on each of nine mannequins. The winter wear symbolized the lives of those homeless known to have died.

A 10th memorial represented any unknown deaths, Gunkel said.

During the service, the names of the deceased were read. Some were eulogized.

“There are many people that live on the streets or in shelters, and some of them pass away. They don’t have family and they don’t have friends, so they just go away,” Gunkel said.

“It (the service) is a way to let all of these people be recognized and honored.”

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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