HUNDREDS gathered at St Martin-in-the-Fields, on Thursday of last week, in a special service to remember more than 190 homeless people who died in the past year in London. Volunteers, church leaders, former homeless people, and friends and relatives filled the pews.
Members of the congregation were given a card inscribed with a name, and a paper cut-out of a fish, to represent each of the dead. The fish were later placed on a blue cloth — part of the installation “Living Water”, by the community artist Don Pollard — that flowed from the altar down the aisle, as a symbol of their souls’ entering the living water of Christ.
As the congregation passed the installation, they were invited to take away a small pebble, or shell, out of a pool of water, to keep, along with the card, for personal prayers.
The service was led by the Revd Richard Carter, who spoke of the increase of homelessness in the UK. “The homeless are not the cause of the economic crisis: they are the victims,” he said. He also spoke of the tragedy of circumstance: “We could all . . . have been on the list.”
The names of the 194 individuals who had died in the past year were read out in four groups, alphabetically, and a bell was chimed to mark a period of silence. Prayers were said, a response was sung, and the stories behind four names were told as a celebration of their lives.
A volunteer at the Christian campaign group Housing Justice, Carol Graves, remembered one woman, Agnieszka Stachelek, who died in March of bowel cancer.
Ms Stachelek, she said, had travelled from Poland to the UK in 2008, at the age of 44. She had become estranged from her family, and, without a home, and on limited benefits, she sought the help of a drop-in centre for the homeless.
As her illness worsened, the charity Housing Justice persuaded her to enter a hospice in Wimbledon, where she died “in peace”.
In his sermon, the Vicar of St Barnabas and St James the Great, Walthamstow, and executive officer of London Churches Social Action, Canon Steven Saxby, commemorated the 12 people who died “directly on the streets” in London last year. Their lives, he said, were “not just statistics” — each was “worthy of dignity and respect”.
The annual service was held in partnership with Housing Justice and the homelessness charity The Connection.