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Tampa activists, friends, family light candles for the homeless who died

At a memorial in the Joe Chillura Courthouse Square, Tracey Crocker reads the name of a homeless person who died in Hillsborough in 2009. One by one, the names of 48 people who died in the county in the past year were read Monday.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

At a memorial in the Joe Chillura Courthouse Square, Tracey Crocker reads the name of a homeless person who died in Hillsborough in 2009. One by one, the names of 48 people who died in the county in the past year were read Monday.

TAMPA

Their names were typed on little slips of paper and handed out to those who gathered in a downtown park to remember them on one of the coldest nights of the year.

They died homeless in Hillsborough County within the last year. Some could be identified only by a nickname. Others, as John Doe.

Most of their deaths went unnoticed by everyone but the Medical Examiner's Office — until Monday's annual Homeless Persons' Memorial service in the Joe Chillura Courthouse Square.

Some of the people who clutched the slips of paper were family members of those who died. Some were homeless friends. Some were strangers.

They listened to Amazing Grace.

They listened to the words of Billy Daniel of St. John's Episcopal Church: "Remember those whom this ever-moving society has left literally stranded on the side of the road. We are here to rejoin, to regather, to remember all those who have been dismembered from humanity."

Then, they passed around the microphone, and one by one, they read the list.

There was Anthony Chatterton, 40, stabbed in the torso. Roosevelt L. Byrd, 61, trauma to his upper body. Murphy, of an unknown age, beaten to death.

There was an unidentified 63-year-old man, killed by a drunken driver. Melissa Sjostrom, 33, whose death made headlines because a teenage driver hit her and left. And Greg Billings, whose death made none.

A truck hit Billings as he crossed the street on Christmas Eve, said friend Joseph Mitchell. Friends called him "Crunchy."

Billings told jokes and sang songs. His family didn't know he was homeless.

Stanley Morse, 56, drowned in the bay. His 8-year-old daughter read his name.

There were 40 men, eight women. The youngest was 33.

With every name, someone lit a candle. By the end, there were 48 flames.

Last year, there were 53.

Since 2004, there have been 284.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Census of homeless in Hillsborough lists men, women, children

According to the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, this county has the largest homeless population in the state of Florida. Almost a fifth of the state's homeless live here. And while census data show only a slight increase in the county's homeless population since 2007, the coalition thinks the numbers are too low and the data do not reflect the true total.

According to the coalition's 2009 census:

9,566 men, women and children are homeless in Hillsborough County.

23 percent are children.

61 percent are male; 39 percent are female.

17 percent are veterans.

40 percent have a source of income; 25 percent of those are employed.

81 percent do not have a drug or alcohol addiction.

63 percent do not have a mental illness.

3 percent have the AIDS virus.

38 percent have a physical disability.

88 percent became homeless in Florida.

41 percent are homelessness for the first time.

Tampa activists, friends, family light candles for the homeless who died 12/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 8:49am]
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