PLAINFIELD, NJ - The third annual memorial vigil to remember the homeless in Union County was held on Thursday evening at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Plainfield. Multi-faith congregations across the county participated.
The event is held on the eve of the shortest day of the year as a time to remember the homeless people who died on the street or living in dangerous abandoned buildings during the year due to their lack of shelter or care.
According to the 2018 NJ Counts Point-in-Time survey in January, there were 459 people, including 41 without shelter, who experienced homelessness in Union County.
Rev. Angelo S. Wildgoose of St. Mark's welcomed the congregants on Thursday evening, asking them to be advocates for those in need.
Father Anthony Randazzo of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Westfield, Rabbi Joel Abraham from Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains, and Plainfield's Rev. Dr. Leanora Colley of New Covenant Church spoke, reminding those in attendance that most people are just one medical bill or job loss away from becoming homeless, too.
A representative from American Muslims for Hunger Relief spoke on behalf of Imam Alaa who was unable to make it, saying he noticed the messages from the speakers who preceded him were similar. He noted that Islam, too, has a commandment that isn't fulfilled if you go to sleep at night with a full stomach and your neighbor is hungry. He said it is important to spread salaam, or peace, and come to know each other. He said AMFHR is seeking churches, synagogues, and other venues for partnerships.
Simeria DeWalt, 36, reflected on being homeless. She had been depressed and contemplated suicide at one point. She now lives with her four children in their own apartment in Elizabeth, and she volunteers with the Family Promise Union County program.
Prior to reading the names of the homeless who have passed this year, a speaker said, "Tonight is the darkest night, cold and wet. How fitting that we remember those who died and lived in the dark night, shunned by the cold shoulder of society, wet with the tears of voices unheard. And so we pray for them and the others to come, not with pious sadness, but with the hope built on our commitment to bring an end homelessness. Let them not die in vain; with each candle we light, we call on them to be present to us. With each candle, we light the darkness and call on hope."
Then everyone was invited up to light a candle in memory of a homeless person.
Richard Brown from Monarch Housing Associates in Cranford said, "Whatever we have learned from our holy scripture, whether we call it the Bible, or the Qur'an or the Torah, there's a rather simple message. Life without commitment is not worth living. All of us have that commitment because we are here. And if we take this, and we spread that to other people, this is the candle that will spread the light. We have a chance, we have a real opportunity to end homelessness once and for all. It is a great moral crisis of our time. It is a crisis that we have to come together to resolve."
Brown added, "It's when we gather like this that I know we have a chance, and we have the hope of ending homelessness."
Rev. Ann Marie Alderman of the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield gave the benediction. "The spirit of love that's so obviously here in this room, the spirit of love that lives in our hearts, the spirit of love that lives in our actions, give us power and courage, so that every day we reach out to a person who is lonely, who is in despair, whose mind is confused, who just needs to know there are people who care."