St. Paul Lutheran Church holds annual service on first day of winter to honor dead
By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: December 21, 2016, 9:26 PM
When people gathered on the steps in front of St. Paul Lutheran Church on Wednesday night, it was foggy and 33 degrees. A few dozen people were there to honor those who have died while homeless.
Memorials are held in cities around the country on Dec. 21, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. It’s a chance to memorialize people who maybe haven’t been properly memorialized and give thanks for their time on earth, said Tom Iberle, who heads the Friends of the Carpenter.
It was fitting that the memorial happened at St. Paul in Vancouver, which provides overnight shelter for men during the winter months. Some clients joined in the memorial before going inside to stay the night.
Iberle read off a list of 10 people with local connections who died while homeless this year. The list included the newborn daughter of a homeless couple.
There wasn’t a lot of information about the deceased — one person’s name wasn’t available, and for others their date of death was hazy — but that speaks to what happens when a person dies while homeless. It can be difficult to track them, document their deaths properly and recognize them.
One of the deceased was a man who frequented the Friends of the Carpenter in west Vancouver. Donald Prickett Jr. died in October in Reedsport, Ore., but was homeless for a while in Vancouver. He had many health problems and eventually reconciled with family in Reedsport, Iberle said. While he was going to the Friends of the Carpenter and doing woodworking projects, Prickett mastered scroll-saw techniques.
“I got to know Donald very well when he lived here in Vancouver,” Iberle said. “He turned out amazing works of art while living out of the back of his truck.”
The list of those who have died is longer than Adam Kravitz can remember from past homeless memorials.
“That should scare us. That should really scare us,” he said.
At previous memorials, Kravitz said, he knew the deceased because he knew them from when he was homeless. At Wednesday’s memorial, he knew the deceased because he tried to work with them through his outreach organization Outsiders Inn.
“It utterly amazes me that we expect people to burrow out of homelessness. It is literally like climbing a mountain that keeps going and going,” Kravitz said.
Vancouver has come a long way in recognizing and addressing homelessness, he said, but it still has a lot to work on in the coming year. Thousands of people in the community help out, and he encouraged people to continue doing good work.
“I have seen love go to the streets more than ever in Vancouver,” he said. “I want to continue that. I want to pump that up. I want you guys to be angry. I want this to be the last memorial.”
Stewart Fling knew Teal Barcheck, who died June 23, and Phyllis Boswell, who died July 20.
“I wasn’t really close with her, but we had a few long talks,” Fling said of Boswell. “She loved everybody. She always gave to everybody even if it put herself out.”
Fling, who’s been homeless 5 1/2 years, stays at the Winter Hospitality Overflow shelter at St. Paul. He said that this community shows “a lot more love” than other places he’s been homeless and that he’s seen growth among local police officers.
Police are more lenient in letting people keep their tents up, he said. “They are coming around.”
So far this month, there’s been snow, ice, high winds and heavy rains. During the wintery conditions, the city of Vancouver offered money for Share to open and staff a severe weather shelter at the day center at Friends of the Carpenter. Living Hope Church also stepped in to open a severe weather shelter. Iberle said service providers are determining who may provide the space the next time it’s needed.