FAIRFIELD — As Ernest Schnaible stood in the cold, holding a candle outside St. Marks Lutheran Church, he knew all too well the hardships of those the crowd was there to remember.
Schnaible, who once was homeless, was one of nearly two dozen people on hand for the second Homeless Person’s Memorial, an event to recognize Fairfield’s homeless population.
Holding back tears, Schnaible, who now works at the Mission Solano homeless shelter and rescue mission, spoke during the ceremony, remembering a friend who he called “Amagind” who he said froze to death.
Schnaible said he never learned his last name. He said that although the man’s small stature often caused other homeless people to bully him and take his clothes or blankets, there were other times when he would give such items freely.
“He was a small man with a big heart,” Schnaible said, holding up his hand in the vicinity of 5 feet above the ground to demonstrate his height.
Like several others at Thursday’s candlelight vigil, Schnaible walked into the middle of the circle gathered outside the church’s front door and spoke Amagind’s name before a bell rang in his memory.
Ruth Forney, Health Care for the Homeless Advisory chairwoman, who served as the event’s emcee, said it was part of a weeklong remembrance culminating with Friday’s National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, an event the National Coalition for the Homeless, the National Consumer Advisory Board and the National Health Care of the Homeless Council co-sponsor.
Friday is the date every year, Forney said, because it is “the coldest night of the year and the longest.”
“No one should die on the streets homeless,” Forney said.
Those are sentiments to which Schnaible could relate.
Schnaible, who describes himself as a Vietnam War veteran who served multiple tours, said he was homeless for several weeks in 2006, living in nearby Lee Bell Park. When he finally gathered the courage to get help, Schnaible said he had only his prosthetic right leg, shoes, shorts, shirt and a hat to his name. Schnaible said after his experience, he learned we’re all one bad decision away from being homeless.
“This is the face of homelessness,” he said, pointing to himself. “If you want to see the face of homelessness, look in a mirror.”
Also on hand was recently elected Fairfield City Councilwoman Pam Bertani, who read a proclamation concerning homelessness.
“This is promoting compassion, love and concern for all citizens,” Bertani said.
For Ron Marlette, Mission Solano executive director, it was an opportunity to remember Logan Ray Biles, a man whose death he said “really shocked” him.
After the November 2011 death of Biles, who died of acute alcohol poisoning on West Texas Street, Marlette said he visited the site where a white cross was erected to remember the man who he said he had known since he was 10 years old.
“We remember Logan today,” Marlette said. “People like him are what motivates Mission Solano. It was birthed for that purpose.”
Reach Nick DeCicco at 427-6966 or firstname.lastname@example.org.