Memorial honors those who died homeless

Phyllis Provo, a Wichita pastor, had been asked to read a eulogy Monday night at the annual National Homeless Person's Memorial Day Service.

But when Provo was handed the memorial, she realized she'd known the man named in the service only as Charles.

"We sometimes pass each other by and don't even realize that we're part of the same family," said Provo, of First United Methodist Church.

About 75 people attended the service to pay respects to Wichita's homeless who died in the last year. It's held annually on the same night in December, "the longest night of the year," said Rabbi Moti Rieber of the Mid Kansas Jewish Federation.

It's the third year the service has been sponsored by the Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness. This year's service was held at First Metropolitan Community Church, which is sponsoring the Warming Souls overflow shelter this month.

Jackie Carter, minister at First Metropolitan, talked about honoring those who are "often nameless, often from a society that would just wish they'd go away."

"But we hold them up tonight so we may remember their names," Carter said.

Like Charles, they were identified only by first names: Pedro, Sonny, Kim, Terry, Bill, Jennifer, Steve and one man whose body was never identified.

Provo read Charles' eulogy, about a man who didn't want to follow doctor's orders when he fell ill, despite the encouragement from those at the shelter.

"You all are talking about what I need to do to go on living, when all I want to do is go to sleep forever," Provo's eulogy quoted Charles as saying.

A woman in the third row of pews dabbed tears with a handkerchief, and a man with worn jeans and a weather face wiped his eyes.

Dan Weyant of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita read the memorial of the unknown man who had died in Wichita. He said the man had inspired a college student to become a social worker and a teenager to stop using drugs and become a substance abuse counselor.

"Those are a few of the lives you touched with your own," Weyant said, "and now they are serving others."

The overflow shelter took in 373 men and women last year. That number is expected to rise this year.

"Because of the economy, the numbers of homeless are going up," said Janis Cox, co-chair of Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness.