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Homeless men and women who died in 2020 honored in annual memorial

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — An annual memorial service that took place Monday afternoon at Davis Park remembers homeless men and women who died this year.

13 WREX spoke to advocates on homelessness about why this event is so special, and how COVID-19 made it different.

It was a somber afternoon in downtown Rockford where more than 30 people gathered to mourn 24 homeless men and women, ages 32 to 75, who died in the past year.

"Most of them did not have any service at all," Angie Walker with the City of Rockford's Human Services Department explains. "Many of them die without any funeral, any service, any anything, so that's why we want to do this activity."

Not all 24 people, who were represented by an empty chair and a rose, died on the streets. Some died while receiving services.

"They had been homeless, but a couple of them were in our housing program and we knew them well," Kay Larrick, the Executive Director of Carpenter's Place, says.

Walker adds none of these 24 deaths were the result of the coronavirus.

But COVID-19 did have an impact on this year's service. For nearly 20 years, the memorial service was at Carpenter's Place, but the coronavirus forced it outdoors to Davis Park. Larrick says that gives us a chance to feel what it's like as temperatures drop, and people certainly did as the wind picked up around sunset.

"Try to imagine what it must be like to be outside all night on a night like this," Larrick says. "And not just one night, but night after night."

The day chosen for this memorial is also symbolic.

"December 21 is the winter solstice, so it's the longest night of the year and for those sleeping on the streets, that means they're surrounded by the longest period of darkness," Walker explains.

While Walker says COVID-19 has had a huge impact on where the homeless can go to seek shelter and brief moments of warmth, Larrick says the doors at Carptener's Place are still open.

"We just made a lot of adjustments like distancing — social distancing — everybody wears a mask, lots of sanitation," Larrick says.

Walker says donating to advocacy groups is one way you can help, but with the COVID-19 pandemic and the impending winter months, there's a need for hats, gloves, and coats this year.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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