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Homeless but Dying With Dignity

Salena Zito on

The homeless often die when long-separated from their families, without anyone ever saying or knowing their names. Sometimes, their lives end in violence and injury, sometimes by their own hands; in places like Maryland, where the temperatures can dip into the single digits, they can perish from hypothermia.

The homeless population in the state is estimated to be over 50,000, with deaths more than doubling here between 2007 and 2017, going from 72 to 196.

Homelessness happens for a variety of reasons, including poverty, abuse, a sudden reversal of fortunes, drug addiction or mental health issues. Most of the homeless find themselves either falling between the cracks or walking away from systems designed to help and support them.

"As peculiar as it sounds, oftentimes, there isn't a specific cause that led to homelessness but a series of situations in a person's life that has put them on the wrong road in life," said Andrea.

McCain also found himself on the wrong side of the law when he attempted to rob a home in the dead of the night. He was charged with numerous infractions, including reckless endangerment with a weapon -- his intended victim took the knife from him -- and he pleaded guilty to two of the charges and was eventually released from commitment.

McCain never told David or Andrea or any of the staff who lovingly cared for him at the end why his life went sideways. The family he had lost touch with found him through the Facebook fundraising post. Family members told the Zilers he was always welcome home and that no incident had ever happened to separate him from his nieces and nephews. He had just drifted away.

 

The good news, said David, was that his family came and sat with him and visited before he died.

Ziler said last year that the homeless shelter provided nearly 80,000 meals to those in need. It currently houses 55 people, with an additional 20 in their cold-weather shelter at the Union Rescue Mission, a faith-based organization that does not take government money but instead relies on small donations to house and serve the homeless.

"When we told Henry he could be at peace because the money was raised, he teared up and said, 'Thank you,'" said Andrea. "He was a man of little words and emotions, so that was incredibly meaningful."

David asked McCain to go to Adam's Funeral Home a half-mile down North Front Street from the mission to make his own funeral arrangements. McCain told the funeral director he only wanted two things: that blanket on his feet and the playing of "The Keeper of the Stars" at his service, as a nod to the faith and friends he found at the end of his life.

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