Homeless memorial day draws solemn crowd

Friends of the Carpenter hosts ceremony of rememberance for those who died

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, Dec. 21, also happens to be Bill Clemons’ wedding anniversary. Nothing could be more tragically fitting.

Clemons ‘wife, Dawn, died three years ago while the couple was homeless. They’d been together for 16 years. “She was a good woman who raised four children,” he said.

Clemons didn’t want to say how Dawn died. But he lit a candle in her honor Wednesday morning at a National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day ceremony hosted by Friends of the Carpenter, a Christian homeless ministry and drop-in center near downtown Vancouver.

About 40 people turned up for the chilly 9 a.m. ceremony on the first day of winter — the shortest day and longest night of the year. That’s the symbolic day selected as National Homeless Memorial Day back in 1990 by the National Coalition for the Homeless. A local ceremony was held for a few years in Esther Short Park, until last year it was decided to bring it indoors.

Friends of the Carpenter operates its own woodworking shop where homeless people can get busy making beautiful things. The Rev. Duane Sich, executive director of Friends of the Carpenter, said remembering people who died while homeless is like putting furniture together — restoring purpose, beauty and function in a broken world.

Every faith tradition includes tales of God’s people enduring homelessness, said the Rev. Rick Jaech of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, whether it’s the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the wilderness, or Jesus being born in a stable because his parents had no place else to go.

While we can take comfort in knowing that God is our “final safety and security,” Jaech said, we must also remember that God cares about “our day to day needs.”

“Even if everyone else forgets, God never forgets,” he said. “Even if everyone else leaves, God never leaves.” People who have died while homeless, he said, “may be forgotten but they are not forgotten to God. Neither are they forgotten to us.”

Approximately 25 candles were lit during a call-and-response ritual conducted by the Rev. Jim Stender of St. Andrew Lutheran Church. People lined up to speak the names of their friends and loved ones who died while homeless.

“When we light the flame, we remember the name,” the crowd said in response to each name.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.