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'Longest Night' Ceremony Memorializes Homeless Who Died In 2013

For the 10th year,  St. Louis residents joined social service providers and city officials at Centenary United Methodist Church Saturday to remember the homeless men and women who died in 2013.

A bell chimed as the Rev. Kathleen Wilder read the names - 16 in all. 

Two died of drug overdoses. Another was an infant, killed by a runaway car. Robyn Robel was fatally strangled and dumped along the Riverfront Trail in April.

Rebecca Ragland, an Episcopal priest who is active in homeless ministry, spoke of Robyn as a strong, feisty woman with a gravelly laugh who took care of other homeless people she met at the Bridge, a day shelter that operates out of Centenary.

"She wasn’t just a statistic as someone who was murdered," Ragland said. "She was a person who was remarkable."

The ceremony has commemorated 233 people since it began in 2004. The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, the dean of Christ Church Cathedral, said it's important to acknowledge the numbers when talking about homelessness. It's a big problem, Kinman told the crowd, and deserves big conversations.

But it won't be solved until it’s society starts talking about the names of the homeless instead of an abstract concept.

"We will never care enough to end homelessness," he said. "But we will care enough to stop people with names from being homeless. We will care enough to stop people with names from dying alone in the street. We will care enough from people with names not being able to feed their children. We will care enough for that."

The ceremony draws its name from the day it takes place - the first night of winter when the daylight hours are shortest. All the speakers said they hoped for a year where they would not have any names to read.

  Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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