Annual homeless persons memorial service honors those we lost in 2020

Nancy Kennedy
Dec 21, 2020

Each Dec. 21, a day that’s often filled with holiday preparation, shopping and early celebrations, a handful of people gather to honor those who have died during the year while experiencing homelessness.

This year, the Salvation Army of Citrus County in Lecanto and Mid Florida Homeless Coalition hosted the memorial service for those who died in Citrus, Lake, Hernando and Sumter counties; the service was also on Facebook Live.

“Today we honor and remember the people who, for the most part, are unseen and who we generally forget and pass by on the street,” said Salvation Army Col. Dennis Strissel of Hernando County. “But for us at the Salvation Army, we know they’re part of our family … and each person we are memorializing today had a story.”

“Since 2017, we have been documenting those who have passed away either during homelessness or while in housing for the formerly homeless,” said Kristy Jocelyn, from Mid Florida Homeless Coalition. “But we know there are many more who are unaccounted for.”

Jocelyn read the names of people who died in 2020 from the four counties covered by Mid Florida, which includes Citrus County:

Veteran Joseph Ancell, Veteran John Bianchi, Ronald Copeland (Citrus), Veteran Thomas Dougherty (Citrus), Michael Gilkerson (Citrus), Patricia Huskey, Lastarza “Star” Johnnies (Citrus), Josephine Johnson, Freda Love, Steve McBride (Citrus), Maurice McCook, Veteran Ricky Minzer (Citrus), Veteran Anthony Nazzario, Gay Parsons, Joseph Smith and Lee Vangelder-Murtagh (Citrus).

“Just naming them is significant,” Strissel said. “Even these people who are generally overlooked … have value and worth, just like you and I do.”

Salvation Army Maj. Ken Fagan ended the brief, but poignant, service with a prayer and a charge:

“Holy God, in the midst of winter, in di”cult economic times, in this pandemic … we grieve for those who have died, who have experienced homelessness,” he said. “No one should live a third-world life in a first-world country.

“For those of us who remain, I pray that we will be your agents of love and change … may we work tirelessly for a new world where homelessness and poverty are ended.”

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