Memorial bids final farewell to homeless
Service remembers those who might otherwise be forgotten
Clark Jacobs lived in a beatup, burgundy-red van that ran just well enough for him to heat the engine block so he could cook on it. He knew how many minutes it took to fry bacon, and how many more for a pork chop.
Jacobs told people he had once been a husband and father and engineer, but that his drinking ended that life and began the final one — in an Orlando parking lot near a community service agency where he volunteered faithfully.
“He was such a kind individual,” said Nina Yon, president and CEO of the Christian Sharing Center in Longwood, who had befriended him. “Even though he was homeless, he was always helping others.”
On Tuesday, at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in downtown Orlando, Jacobs’ name was among the 130 Orange, Osceola and Seminole county residents read at an annual Central Florida Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service — a remembrance of those who died in the past year and might otherwise be forgotten.
More than 200 people attended, most of them strangers to the deceased.
“It is important to speak the names and remember those who, although less fortunate than some, were part of our community and deserve to be acknowledged,” said the former sexton of Orlando’s Greenwood Cemetery, Don Price. “Someone once said that everyone dies twice: first, when you take your last breath, and second, when your name is spoken for the last time.”
IDignity — an Orlando-based nonprofit that helps the homeless get the legal documents needed to land work, stay in a
shelter or apply for benefits — holds the service each year near the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. It is a recognition of the difficulties that nighttime brings the homeless, and for many, it is the only public acknowledgement of their passing.
This year, there was Erika Stanhope, 60, and Joshua Riettie, just 21. There were cashiers and carpenters. There were sons and daughters and sometimes fathers and mothers. There were a handful — Andrea and Nancy and John “Snowy” — whose last names were not known, even in death.
All their names were read aloud. And for each, someone in the sanctuary lit a candle.
Timothy McKinney, the CEO of the nonprofit United Global Outreach, lit one for Stephen “Bigfoot” Canada, a towering man who wore a size-17 shoe and spent much of his 53 years camped in the woods of east Orange County.
“His toes were just mangled because, from the time he was teenager on, he usually could only find size 14 in the stores, so that’s what he crammed his feet into,” McKinney said. “He was like our Humpty Dumpty. No matter how much we tried, we couldn’t put Steve back together. He suffered so much trauma from sexual abuse as a child and even domestic violence while he was homeless and a lot of substance abuse. I think he’s probably been hit by three cars in the decade I’ve known him, you know, while riding his bike.”
In his final months, dying of liver failure, Canada was taken into the home of a couple. “At least he didn’t have to die out in the woods,” McKinney said.
Clark Jacobs was not so fortunate. Living on a monthly check from an out-of-state brother, he parked near the low-cost grocery at United Against
Poverty in south Orlando, volunteering and turning away offers of help. Yon, who worked at that agency until this spring, offered to cook his food in her office microwave and, on another occasion, wanted to buy him a frying pan.
No, he said. He had too many things already.
“Mental [illness] was an issue for him, but we didn’t see it at first,” she said.
On an early morning in June, about to be evicted from his parking spot, Jacobs, 58, walked to the nearby train tracks, stepped between the rails, and waited for the impact.
Participants in the Central Florida Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service bow their heads in prayer Tuesday at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke on Tuesday.
Names are listed in the program during the Central Florida Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service on Tuesday.