December 21, the longest night of the year, is National Homeless Persons Memorial Day. Tim Houchen of Hope 4 Restoration organized a candlelight vigil for the 329 people who have died while being homeless in Orange County in 2020.
This is the fourth remembrance Houchen has hosted. Like each year before, some of the names of the deceased are people he knew from the 5 years he survived living on the street. Unlike prior years, this year’s memorial was on YouTube because of COVID-19 and it was co-hosted by Dot Leach of Women Drivers Interfaith Group.
Leach said the number of people who have died homeless this year has increased during the pandemic. She explained that the purpose of the event was to say each name and give them their remembrance as well as for making a commitment to permanently house and feed those in need.
She asked people watching from their homes to light a candle and listen to the prayers and songs from different religions and different languages. The Orange County Islamic Foundation, Baha’i Faith, Congregation B’nai Tzedel, New Hope Presbyterian, Fr. Dennis Kriz from St. Philip Benizi, and the Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church spoke of hope and caring for people in need.
Volunteers took turns reading names as each name was displayed in white on a black background until the screen filled and emptied and another set of volunteers continued reading the list of names. Video clips of some personal memories were interspersed throughout from friends of the deceased.
When the names of the 329 men, women, and children had been read, Brigette Purdy sang “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother” during a black-and-white photomontage of people living on the street. A final prayer from Sheikh Tarik Ata, Orange County Islamic Foundation, asked for God to “Bring about leaders to bring long-term change to help our brethren,” and Rabbi Heather Miller gave a sacred blessing that is meant to be said each year on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Finally, the New Hope Presbyterian Ensemble sang a spiritual while the camera panned the panels displaying the names.
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