Friends, family remember homeless in New London

Rox-Anne Schick of Groton works on a blanket for Christmas before the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day service hosted by the New London Homeless Hospitality Center on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, at St. James Episcopal Church. She was attending the event in honor of her sister Aleesha-Lin Wood, who passed away in October. The annual event remembers those homeless and formerly homeless residents of New London County who have passed away in the past year. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Rox-Anne Schick of Groton works on a blanket for Christmas before the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day service hosted by the New London Homeless Hospitality Center on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, at St. James Episcopal Church. She was attending the event in honor of her sister Aleesha-Lin Wood, who passed away in October. The annual event remembers those homeless and formerly homeless residents of New London County who have passed away in the past year. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New London — LaVonne Gardiner didn't want Stanley Jacovich to freeze.

"I invited him to sit in my car and warm up," Gardiner said of her first encounter with Jacovich, whom she befriended as they grappled with homelessness together for several months this year. "Stanley was a happy, loving, and very giving person when you could get a glimpse of it."

On another frigid night in New London, Gardiner, 67, gathered Thursday with dozens of friends, family members and New London Homeless Hospitality Center staff at St. James Episcopal Church to remember homeless and formerly homeless people who've died in recent years, like Jacovich.

Sponsored locally by the hospitality center and St. Francis House, the annual Homeless Persons' Memorial Day is celebrated in 150 cities and counties across the country on the winter solstice, the longest night in the year, marking the harsh times faced by those fighting to survive without a roof over their heads.

In the church courtyard before the service began, the Rev. Ranjit Mathews read 16 names of homeless and formerly homeless people who died this year, with Grace Panko, a St. Francis resident, gently ringing a gong after each name.

The night inspired many stories of those who died, with a mix of family and members of support networks standing and repeating a message of perseverance through punishing New England winters, substance abuse, ageism, mental health problems and apathy.

"You want to be the best person you are? You've got to find that quiet place and find out who you are," said Michael Moore, a formerly homeless man who now volunteers at the hospitality center. "Just keep trying. Don't give up."

Daniel Nicolosi, a longtime New London resident who's been homeless for 10 years, told the group he sometimes feels like he keeps "running into a wall."

In an interview, Nicolosi said he used to work as a finisher at PCC Structurals in Groton but, like many in the church, he had struggled with addiction and sought help through the shelter and consistent prayer.

"Drug addiction is a crippling disease that will take you down," he said. "The only way out is to become part of the community and reach out."

Jacovich, Gardiner said, "died of a broken heart" after grieving the loss of his wife.

Police in November identified Jacovich, 64, as a victim of smoke inhalation after a fire at a condemned Eastern Avenue house that he owned.

"He could have changed his situation with a phone call," Gardiner said. "But the broken heart led to alcoholism. There's an undercurrent that comes before the homelessness."

Generations Family Health Center of Norwich also celebrated Homeless Persons Memorial Day on Thursday at St. Vincent De Paul Place Soup Kitchen in Norwich, with a gathering of family and friends of deceased homeless individuals and a fundraiser to help combat homelessness.

b.kail@theday.com

Grace Panko, center, hits a gong as names of those who passed away in this year are read during the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day service hosted by the New London Homeless Hospitality Center on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, at St. James Episcopal Church. The annual event remembers those homeless and formerly homeless residents of New London County who have passed away in the past year. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Grace Panko, center, hits a gong as names of those who passed away in this year are read during the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day service hosted by the New London Homeless Hospitality Center on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, at St. James Episcopal Church. The annual event remembers those homeless and formerly homeless residents of New London County who have passed away in the past year. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
The Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews, rector at the St. James Episcopal Church, speaks during the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day service hosted by the New London Homeless Hospitality Center on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, at St. James Episcopal Church. The annual event remembers those homeless and formerly homeless residents of New London County who have passed away in the past year. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
The Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews, rector at the St. James Episcopal Church, speaks during the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day service hosted by the New London Homeless Hospitality Center on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, at St. James Episcopal Church. The annual event remembers those homeless and formerly homeless residents of New London County who have passed away in the past year. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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