On the eve of the winter solstice, when daylight is at its shortest, homeless residents of the Northwest suburbs who died over the past year were remembered at a service Friday morning intended to keep their lives from simply fading into darkness.
The candlelight vigil was held at the Palatine day center of Journeys-The Road Home, which operates 18 PADS shelters at churches in the area.
Twelve candles were lit for known clients who passed away in 2013, while a 13th was lit for any and all who died outside the knowledge of their family and friends.
Current client Vendetta CeCe-Jackowiak said the worst tragedy in life is for anyone to be forgotten.
"If I was forgotten, I would hope someone would do something like this for me," she said.
Journeys Event Coordinator Corey Keller said the 8-year-old tradition is a meaningful one for the agency and its clients.
"Our clientele are a close-knit group," Keller said. "To lose a member of the homeless community is like losing a family member to them."
And 12 is the largest number of clients who've been remembered at the annual vigil. But the agency's total clientele has grown by 50 percent in the last five years, Keller said.
This growth has been accompanied by no change in the agency's funding, she added. With more than 1,400 homeless people now served, resources, staff and volunteers are being spread ever more thin, she said.
The agency has had to sell one of its transportation vans, making it harder for clients to get to the spread-out shelters, while case workers have been less able to give the one-on-one time some people need.
Journeys Executive Director Beth Nabors said in some ways it's far easier to be homeless in the city with access to round-the-clock services and a relatively comprehensive transportation system. But most of her clients prefer to stay in the familiar surroundings of where they lived when they had homes.
CeCe-Jackowiak said that's certainly her situation, having lived in Des Plaines before being made homeless by a complicated divorce. While access to shelters and transportation may be easier in the city, there are other aspects of being homeless there that are a lot scarier, she said.
Another struggle newly homeless people face -- especially those coming from middle-class backgrounds like herself -- is how long it can take even to learn of the existence of such services as Journeys provides, she said.
Though she became homeless in the summer of 2011, she's been a client of Journeys for only the past couple months.
Keller said what the agency could use most is the support of community members in seeking more federal aid and affordable housing.
Of the 12 former clients remembered Friday, two lost their lives to suicide due to depression or mental illness while the rest suffered from physical illnesses which weren't improved by their homelessness, Keller said.