story & photo
by Jon Persson
The homeless of New London are safe from the sting of winter on the longest night of 2012, a fulfilled mission for the St. James and Covenant Shelters of this city that reaches into the new year. Yet on this chill night people gather at All Souls Church to remember 38 of the homeless who have passed, often too soon, from this life. It is a remembrance of the lives, and of the conditions of life, which contributed to their early passing. In the audience are homeless—and former homeless—as well as staff and volunteers from the shelters, the supporters and leaders, most of whom count friends among the deceased.
Two of these friends had died while in their tents, on the bitter nights of the 2006 winter. Their loss was the trigger for an increased effort in the city to seek out the unsheltered and offer them the security of a warm place to sleep. The group has found that there are many causes of homelessness, and thus many solutions are called for.
Susie Hermanson, a frequent presence at the Homeless Hospitality Center, leads the evening’s ceremonies, which are a mix of prayer and response, performances of songs by James Taylor and John Lennon, candles, and a moment of silence. Ron Steed offers a reflection on the damaging effects of homelessness on health, and the illnesses made worse by lack of rest ad respite. Laura Edelstein, organizer of this memorial and of volunteers at the Hospitality Center, reads an appreciation of the many volunteers who make the center possible.
A darkened hallway, lit only by the light of electric candles, leads to the chapel where the memorial takes place. Outside, along the Jay Street sidewalks, 38 winter hats adorn candy-cane stakes, each bearing the name of a New London homeless person who has passed since 2006.
Yet at the reading of the names of those who have passed, there is a fresh poignancy: a 39th name is added to the list—Brian Ash, 32 years old, a young man of gracious heart and noble spirit, lost his personal battle for life in the early morning hours of this very day, the shortest of 2012.