The streets of Boston have been Frank Hampshire’s home off and on since 1978, and a place where he has said many goodbyes.
On Friday, he paid tribute to some of the homeless men and women who have died on those streets in the last year by participating in the reading of their names at an interfaith service on Beacon Hill.
“It meant a lot,” said Hampshire, 57, who moved into a studio apartment in Roxbury two weeks ago.
The music-filled service, which was held at Church on the Hill, has been a tradition in Boston for 30 years, said Michael Bancewicz, the congregational director.
This year, the names of 98 homeless men and women were read aloud, and candles were lit in their honor at the service, said Bancewicz. They were identified by their first name and the first letter of their last name. Two tombstones bearing the names Jane Doe and John Doe were displayed on the altar.
The people whose names were read aloud hailed mostly from the Boston area, and their mention did not tell the whole story. Bancewicz noted that he has collected the names of at least 138 homeless men and women who have died throughout the state since last year and is expecting more names to surface.
“A lot of these people have great stories and had great lives,” Bancewicz said. “They have a value.”
The names that were read aloud were also displayed on blankets that sat on the altar during the service and were distributed to those in attendance at the end of the service.
“They’re going to bring them back to their churches, to their employment, to their homes, and just share that person’s name with the people they interact with over the next couple of weeks,” Bancewicz said.
This year, many homeless people living in Boston are dealing with the closure of Long Island, which shut down on Oct. 8 after the city condemned the bridge that connects it with the mainland. The closure displaced hundreds of people who sought shelter, substance abuse treatment, and other social services at facilities on the island.
“Long Island provided chronically homeless individuals a place of hope,” said Mary Eaton, associate pastor at Common Cathedral, which provides outdoor worship services in Boston for the homeless. “Long Island provided chronically homeless individuals a place of hope. Now that that is gone, there’s this pervasive hopelessness within the community.”
The city’s homeless services are operated by the Boston Public Health Commission, which said in a statement that it was not aware of any deaths of former Long Island residents since the bridge closure.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Monday that the city plans to renovate a brick building in the Newmarket area to accommodate many of the displaced homeless people. About 100 people are expected to be able to move into the space in mid-January, Walsh said.
Sister Linda Bessom, a senior community organizer at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, participated in Friday’s service by singing the names of the people who were being remembered.
“Each person is a very unique and special soul,” said Bessom, a sister of Notre Dame. “We need to work to change the structures that are causing so many to die without a home. It’s a moral imperative.”
After the service, Hampshire said he was mourning the death of a 35-year-old homeless man whom he called David P. He said David P. died of alcohol poisoning three months ago.
“He was a very good friend of mine,” Hampshire said. “We were out here together on the streets.”