Candlelight Vigil: tribute to homeless who passed
By MEGHAN BRADBURY
A tribute for 31 homeless individuals who lost their lives this year will be held during the Lee County Homeless Coalition 22nd annual Candlelight Vigil on the longest night of the year.
“It’s a memorial service for people who passed away while living on the streets, or shelters in Lee County,” Homeless Coalition Executive Director Janet Bartos said. “For most of these people, this is the only service they will have. We will take a moment to honor them, only if we just speak their name to recognize that they were a person and lived a difficult life here.”
At 6 p.m., Friday, Dec. 21, the Candlelight Vigil will be held. The community is invited to gather on the steps of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 2120 Main St., in Fort Myers for the ceremony.
“The day is chosen for the conditions that those who are homeless must endure. It gives us an opportunity to educate the people about the tragedy of homelessness. We have approximately 3,000 people that are homeless in Lee County. We do that count at the end of each January. There are 31 people that died this past year. That is the largest in our vigil since 2007,” she said. “It’s a very nice, moving service. We have luminary bags with their names on it. We read the names and light their candle.”
The service will also include remarks by Bartos; past board member William Rodriguez; as well as an opening prayer presented by Bishop EI Johnson of New Life Worship Center; “Taps” performed by Harvey Charter, commander of Victor Paul Tuchman Post 400 Jewish War Veterans; and music provided by New Life Worship Center Choir.
On average, approximately 100 people typically attend the service, but Bartos hopes there will be more this year because they want to educate and inspire the public to support the community’s need for more affordable housing, shelters, living wages and accessible health care.
The Lee County Homeless Coalition is a nonprofit organization that advocates and educates individuals. Bartos said they do not provide direct services, but support member agencies. On Wednesday, she said she had been collecting blankets and letting the member agencies know, so they can take them to people in their outreach areas.
For more information, or to seek out the coalition’s services, visit www.leehomeless.org, or call 239-322-6600.
“I’m hoping that people keep homelessness a priority and commit to doing their part to the homeless in need,” Bartos said.