Tampa Honored 110 Individuals Who Died Homeless in Hillsborough County

Their names hung in the moist, early evening air, each read out as a prayer and a request.

Joe Morgan 71. Katherine Coleman 49. William Perez 62.

The identities of 110 persons known to have died while homeless in Hillsborough County last year, the highest number in three years and a somber conclusion to a year and area marked by a relentless rise in living expenses.

On Monday, many gathered in downtown Tampa for a vigil to bring dignity to individuals whose lives were frequently cut short.

Shawn Reilly, thirty. Kevin Johnson 58. Ryan Sipperley 25.

Tampa Honored 110 Individuals Who Died Homeless in Hillsborough County

They perished at dawn, dusk, and lunchtime. The first fatality occurred on the first day of the year, and they continued through the end of December. Every month saw fatalities, but none were as devastating as August when 22 individuals perished in the county in just four weeks.

They were recalled above the sounds of neighboring traffic at this yearly event hosted by The Portico, Hyde Park United Methodist Church’s downtown campus.

Walter Harp 68. Julia Johnson 51. Richard Booth 33.

According to the county Medical Examiner’s Office, men made up the vast bulk of those who died—more than 80%. The youngest was nineteen. The eldest is 78. The average age was fifty.

They were only a few of the thousands of homeless people who died in 2023, when homelessness reached its worst level on record, according to federal data.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor did not attend the vigil. Neither did a member of the Tampa City Council or the Hillsborough County Commission.

Michael Hall 48. Mandy Costley, 44; Rocky Reynolds, 62.

As the sunset painted the sky pink and darkness fell, Justin LaRosa hoped that each name would serve as a call to compassion and a reminder of the region’s ongoing struggle to assist those who have lost everything, those who travel zigzagging paths through courts and jails, treatment centers and sidewalks. And a determination to act.

“There are other things for us to do besides remember,” he reminded the audience. LaRosa, a social worker and ordained preacher, is the director of The Portico.

He and other organizers had created brochures and posters naming 109 deaths, only to discover on the day of the event that they had overlooked one.

Henry Shaw 64.

A pair snuggled behind the structure as the light faded. They’d seen the vigil begin but couldn’t stand to stay.

“It makes me cry,” admitted Caitlyn Soucy, 48.

Steve Soucy, 35, stated that they previously had a property in New Hampshire. They used to own a car and work two solid jobs. On Monday night, they wore flimsy jackets to protect themselves from the February wind.

He worked as a roofer, while she worked in a restaurant. Then the pandemic arrived. The bills piled up. First, they got into their automobile. Then it’s onto the streets. Bad credit hampered their efforts to regain stability.

“We’ve just been stuck ever since,” explained Steve.

“Yes,” Caitlyn replied. “Stuck.”

They soon disappeared into the night, looking for a spot to sleep.

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