'Longest Night' event remembers homeless who have passed on

By Erin Prater Updated: December 22, 2013 at 8:33 am • Published: December 21, 2013 | 9:10 pm 0
photo - Cristian Granados, 12, helped keep peoples candles lit during the annual "The Longest Night of the Year" Memorial Service at the Bijou House Memorial Garden in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Saturday, December 21, 2013.   (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette)
Cristian Granados, 12, helped keep peoples candles lit during the annual "The Longest Night of the Year" Memorial Service at the Bijou House Memorial Garden in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Saturday, December 21, 2013. (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette)

Ten-year-old Alicia Granados' hands shook violently as she knelt in the bitter cold darkness Saturday night behind the Bijou House, a shelter at 411 W. Bijou St. that offers hospitality and services to the homeless.

She was volunteering at an hour-long ceremony to memorialize 13 local homeless Springs people who died this year, as well as 65 more in Denver.

Her left hand, which shielded a candle she held with her right, shook so erratically that she sometimes jerked it away, lest it tremble its way into the flame.

Frigid winds repeatedly extinguished the candle that a woman in a wheelchair next to her held. And each time, Alicia the 10-year-old reignited it with hers.

"It's cold, but it's still fun listening and singing," said Alicia, who volunteers at the annual event because her grandfather, who runs a homeless shelter, speaks during it.

Nearly 100 gathered for the ceremony, dubbed "The Longest Night," held at the memorial garden behind the Bijou House.

Temperatures hovered just below freezing as the homeless and sheltered alike prayed, sang and shared stories on what was, indeed, the longest night of the year, the winter solstice.

Cries of "we remember" punctuated homeless advocate Mary Lynn Sheetz's reading of a list of names of the deceased.

Sheetz said she hoped those in attendance who weren't homeless were inspired to effect change in the community.

"I hope they want to commit themselves to doing something - reflect, then go out and move toward action," said Sheetz, whose husband runs a homeless shelter.

Because their grandfather works with the homeless, poverty is never far from the minds of Alicia and her 12-year-old brother, Cristian Granados.

Still, Saturday's ceremony, held in bone-chilling weather, was an unsettling glimpse into the plight of local homeless individuals - even for Cristian.

"It brings you to Earth, brings you back down, realizing how sad it is that some people don't have homes," he said. "Today was what? An hour and a half that we sat outside, and I'm almost dead."

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