In Honor of Honor
For over a decade, on December 21st the first day of winter, the longest night of the year, we have been coordinating a memorial service to remember those who moved from the here to the hereafter while living on our streets and in our shelters. For more than half of those years beautiful music has been performed by Candace Coleman and Mike Fisher. 5 years ago while introducing a song Mike shared that this memorial service was so very important to him and told the audience why: His grandfather was a veteran who had drifted in and out of homelessness before dying one night on our frozen streets.
During an advance interview with the Blade’s Tom Henry, Tom asked if I remembered Yong Sup Kim who died 25 years ago when people were driven from warm tunnel at Portside to the streets and was killed by a city snow plow on a snowy night. I did.
We talked about how in the late 80’s the combined forces of decreased Federal HUD funding and the ACLU’s successful efforts to decriminalize mental illness, forced more and more people on the streets of our nation. Increasing homelessness blatantly smacked the community and the nation in the face. Both were unprepared to know how to deal with the issue. According to the United Way study in 1990, “More Than a Place to Sleep”, 60% of those unhoused in Toledo were families with children.
I shared with Tom that I thought one of the turning points for the community’s compassion is credited to then-city manager John Alexander. Rather than go with stereotypes, John accepted my invitation to come down and see for himself who and how people were living on the streets. Once you know the names of the people you’re creating policies for, usually there’s a little bit more compassion in those policies.
So true for Toledo. The response to this accident was the beginning of the community coming together and compassion, while other communities have gone to war against those one the streets.
Tom put mention of the Yong in the story for the memorial.
That night Rick Arnold, a friend and longtime advocate for those with mental illness, came to the memorial service to honor his friend Yong Sup Kim. Rick had been homeless at that time and knew her from a prospective none of us others had. I invited him to honor her during the memorial. He talked about “Little Kim,” and then mentioned some of the others we had known who had made a mark on us and our community including Elaine Higgins, Bob Rowe and others.
When Mike Fisher returned to do his next scheduled musical interlude, he asked Rick “did you say Bob Rowe? He was my grandpa.” With tears, Mike then went into his next song, a song about the hope that comes after things have gotten as bad as they can be.
Everyone truly does matter.