News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 11, 2014

Vigil recalls homeless man

Man crushed in trash collector, others without homes who suffer similar fate remembered

TERRE HAUTE — A small but passionate group of people held candles in their hands at a Friday evening event to remember the tragic loss of a man — and others like him — who led a hard life until the bitter end.

In the parking lot of the Vigo County School Corp. administration building, in downtown Terre Haute, about a dozen people participated in a brief memorial ceremony and vigil to recognize Franschon Barr, a 46-year-old Connecticut man who was found dead in a garbage truck exactly a year ago on Friday. He was homeless.

The memorial participants may have never met Barr, but they know that his body was found in a garbage collection truck near a downtown Terre Haute hotel.

Barr and his girlfriend, Jeanmarie A. Jackson — who sustained pelvis and other serious injuries — were believed to have sought shelter from the rain inside a trash bin located outside a store at 11th and Locust streets. The bin was emptied while Barr and Jackson were inside, officials said, and that Barr died from compression asphyxia.

This story and others like it across the nation were shared at the memorial, organized by local non-profit Families by Choice.

“We stand here today to remember Mr. Barr and the others across this nation whose death was contributed to by their common condition: They were homeless,” FBC founder Muriel Ryan told the attendees.

Muriel Ryan and her husband, Bernie Ryan, shared other incidents of homeless men and women across the country being found in dumpsters. They also shared the stories of homeless people — from California to Washington, D.C. — whose deaths were weather-related.

One of them was Jesus Blanco, a 43-year-old who froze to death about 50 yards from a shelter in Washington, D.C.  

The participants also heard about the general issue of homelessness in the nation.

“The two fastest groups among the homeless are women with children and the working poor,” Ryan quoted Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless, as saying. “The second fastest growing group of the homeless is the working poor.”

In Indiana, 6,064 individuals comprising 4,375 households were homeless during the last week in January 2013, according to the 2013 Point-in-Time Homeless Count by the Indiana Housing and Community Development.  

 Of those homeless individuals, 5,396 were staying in emergency shelters, safe havens or temporary transitional housing programs and 668 were unsheltered and found on the street. About 1,500 were under the age of 18, the report stated.

Sixteen percent of the adults counted identified themselves as suffering from a chronic addiction and 13 percent identified themselves as having a severe mental illness.

The problem of homelessness continues to grow in Terre Haute and nationwide, Ryan said. There are also many gaps that need to be addressed, she added.

Terre Haute resident Pam Okeli and her son, Matt, attended the memorial to learn more about the issue.

“We try to do what we can to help people,” she said. “I didn’t realize that we have the homeless problem that we do in Terre Haute.”

Two poems were read at the event before concluding with the group singing, “Amazing Grace.”

Toward the end of the ceremony, Angie Francis of Families by Choice, placed two flowers beside Max Ehrmann’s statue on the corner of Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue, just across the street from where the garbage collection truck was located when Barr’s body was found exactly a year ago. One flower is for Barr and the other is for his girlfriend, who was injured.

As the flowers were laid,  Ehrmann’s famous words from the “Desiderata” filled the air as Ryan read: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;

“You have a right to be here.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@ tribstar.com.

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