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Giving voice to the silent

Judee Barnes, left, Caroline Niemi, Bryan Niemi and Paul Barnes release balloons in memory of homeless friends that died in Albany in 2013 (Mark Ylen/Democrat-Herald)

About 50 people gathered Friday on the Albany City Hall steps on a raw 35-degree morning to, in the words of police Lt. Casey Dorland, “speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

He was talking about the six homeless people who died in Albany in 2013.

“This is a time to remember that there are people out there who don’t enjoy the same lifestyle as most of us do,” said Dorland, who led the city’s Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service.

The 40-minute program also included remarks from Mayor Sharon Konopa and Albany and Lebanon hospital chaplain Wes Sedlacek, as well as a trumpet rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Dean Hanson, a 21-gun salute by the Albany American Legion Post 10 honor guard, and the playing of “Taps” by Roy Poppleton of Legion Post 11 in Corvallis.

Konopa, noting the damp chill enveloping the bundled-up audience, remarked that, “You’re all cold. Think of how many homeless people who are out there who are cold 24 hours a day.”

Sedlacek recounted a parable of a man who merely tossed a penny at a beggar, then wished he had done more, and in a more kind way, but the beggar died before any further kindness could be shown him.

“I shouldn’t fling my charity,” Sedlacek said, “but instead bend down to offer it with gentleness.”

Sedlacek also read aloud the names of the six decedents, and for each a candle was lit and a balloon released: Robert A. Carlson, 76; Daniel S. Cowen, 59; Russell Ray, 56; Crystal L. Sprague, 33; Vincent A. “Tony” Torrier, 48; and David L. Weidrich, 42.

Also honored was Midnight, the formerly homeless cat who was for several years the mascot of the Helping Hands shelter; the aging pet disappeared in September and is presumed dead.

One of the people listed in the service’s program as a decedent is actually still alive. Erik V. Malott, 43, had mistakenly been reported as dead by service providers.

The American Legion portion of the ceremony was particularly to honor the two veterans among the six people who died. Carlson was a 40-year Navy man; the other veteran was Cowen, the details of whose service are not known.

Sponsoring Friday’s service, the fifth edition of the annual event, were the city of Albany; the Homeless Enrichment and Rehabilitation Team, or HEART; Samaritan Health Services; Community Services Consortium, and Legion Post 10.

Follow Steve Lundeberg on Twitter @AnyGivenLundy or email him at steve.lundeberg@lee.net.

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