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The power in a name: Memorial honors homeless lost in 2019

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Floodlights cast shadows over the parking lot Friday night at Signs of Victory Homeless Shelter in Albany as dozens of people gathered on the longest night of the year to hear a list of names, and pray.

For the 11th year in a row, the Homeless Persons Memorial Service honored the lives of those who died while homeless in Albany during the last year. This year’s list had 10 names. Some were young adults, some were veterans and some were seniors. All were without shelter.

“They died unseen and disregarded,” said Pastor Tim Graves. “They had hopes. They had feelings and they had dignity. They had names.”

The names of the lost: Joshua Campbell, 41; Karna Hatfield, 62; Brandon Jones, 28; Thomas Keas, 48; Steven Dale Pickle, 65; Kevin R. Porter, 49; Billy G. Seibert, 55; Larry Dean Sharp, 66; Laura Van Houte, 53; and Melissa Ann Yates, 34.

“The power in a name, matters,” Graves said.

The names on the list represented the unhoused individuals that could be identified, and while Friday’s even drew its largest crowd in recent years, for some on the list, the parking lot gathering was the only acknowledgment of their deaths — the only time someone lit a candle in their name.

“Amazing Grace” and the sound of passing cars merging off the overpass broke the silence as 10 people stood in a row holding candles to represent those who had passed.

Kevin Campbell stood in the crowd, his head bowed, listening to the list of names and stories from some of their families and friends. Until he saw the list, he didn’t know one of his own was on it.

“My friend from high school is on the list,” he said. “We graduated from West Albany High School in 1990 and lost contact. It hits close to home.”

For some, it hit even closer.

“This is harder than I thought it would be,” said Karen Drews as she leaned on her cane at the podium and fought tears. Her sister, Laura Van Houte, was on the list.

“She was loved,” Drews said. “She had four grandkids who loved her. Live circumstances took us by surprise with her. It’s harder when you have a younger sibling and you’re raised in the same house and it just goes so differently. She was very, very loved.”

The event was held at Signs of Victory for the first time this year after moving to the American Legion from City Hall last year. The city of Albany sponsors the event, and according to a city spokesperson, the location change made sense, with the shelter providing services for the unhoused.

The 30 minute service ended with a benediction from Pastor Brandon Lewis to ask attendees to leave the parking lot as warriors of peace and to remember the homeless throughout the year.

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