Laura Cieckiewcz, 49, once owned a home on Lake Street in Jersey City, but she later became homeless. Two weeks ago, her body was discovered behind a basketball court and playground in Jersey City’s Leonard Gordon Park.
The fact that she may have spent her last days alone on the streets in near-freezing weather was a sober reminder that people continue to live on the streets, even along North Jersey’s “Gold Coast.”
It’s not clear how many homeless people die annually on Hudson County park benches, in alcoves, or in doorways to abandoned buildings. Last year, the Hudson County Alliance to End Homelessness counted 1,779 homeless people living on the streets.
It’s not clear how many homeless people die annually in Hudson County.
Organizers of the event say the memorial will commemorate the lives of “those who were lost to homelessness,” a euphemistic phase that event volunteer Joanne Smith said recently “can mean so many things. But what it really means is that being homeless seriously contributed to their passing. People can fall into homelessness frighteningly easily, and from there it’s usually a one-way ticket downward. People who already had health problems find those problems get worse. Then, they aren’t eating right, and they aren’t eating regularly. They don’t get proper rest. It just goes on.”
Similar memorials for the homeless take place each year around the county on the longest night of the year, a night that is often among the coldest of the early winter season.
“Nationally, this is something that’s been going on for 20 years,” said Smith. “It was started by the National Coalition for the Homeless [in Washington, D.C.] and it has spread out to various states and municipalities and counties and communities around the country. This is only the second time it’s being done in Hudson County.”
The county’s commemoration borrows some features typical of other homeless memorials but won’t include a candlelight vigil that’s been a staple of other similar events.
“We didn’t choose to do that,” said Smith. “For one thing, we wanted, above all, to involve as many homeless folks as possible. And they spend entirely too much time outside in the cold. The last thing we wanted was to [deny them] some warmth and comfort inside for a while.”
The interfaith service will include participation from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders. Last year’s memorial attracted about 50 people.
“These services provide an opportunity for people to mourn publically, and often it’s the first time that people are able to mourn family, friends and other loved ones, particularly if they themselves are homeless,” Smith noted. “The survivors generally don’t have the money to do a funeral. Welfare will pay for burial, but usually not very much more.”
Warm accessories needed
Although most of those who attend and participate in the service are homeless people or their advocates, Smith said other members of the community are welcome to attend.
And members of the larger community are encouraged to donate warm accessories – socks, hats, gloves, mitten, and scarves – which will be distributed to homeless people after the service ends.
The homeless memorial will begin at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21 at the Church of the Incarnation at 68 Storms Ave. in Jersey City. For more information about the service or ways to donate, please call (201) 209-9301, ext. 300.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.