CLEARWATER — Huddled together outside the Pinellas County Courthouse on Monday, a small group of advocates for the homeless paid tribute to the 33 homeless people who died in the county this year.
The gathering was supposed to be a candlelight vigil, but the coldest winds of this December snuffed out the lights. Still, the weather didn't stop the half-dozen advocates from remembering the residents who died without families around to mourn them.
Salvation Army Maj. Dean Hinson led a prayer. G.W. Rolle, who works with the National Coalition for the Homeless, told stories.
A couple of drivers passing by the group's lone wreath and banner honked their horns.
"We don't want these people to die and nobody take notice," said George N. Bolden Jr., a director of the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless. "The whole idea is to bring dignity to lives that have been overlooked."
Another 48 homeless people who died this year in Hillsborough County were remembered in a separate vigil Monday night in downtown Tampa. Forty men and eight women were remembered at the memorial service.
Bolden said in 2008, his Pinellas organization counted 24 homeless people who died on the streets. The increase in deaths is proportionate to the increased number of homeless people who live in the county — 6,235 in January, up from 5,142 in 2007.
The number of homeless people who die in the county is gathered by the Pinellas Coalition from a variety of sources, including the Medical Examiner's Office, other homeless people and news reports.
For a day, several cities in the county put aside politics on the issue and made official proclamations recognizing this year's winter solstice — Monday — as Homeless Persons' Memorial Day.
Pinellas Park's City Council broke from Clearwater, Largo, St. Petersburg and the County Commission in not passing a resolution recognizing the day.
Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or firstname.lastname@example.org.