FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
I presided this evening at a memorial service for Richard Todd Shireman, a forty-six year old husband, father of two sons, and an amazing presence in our community in St. Petersburg. Rich Shireman was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana where he served for ten years on the local police force after high school graduation. He left the force to become a Lutheran pastor in Indiana where he served an additional seven years. Then with his wife and family he moved to St. Petersburg. His funeral or in this case Memorial Service was held at Pinellas Hope tonight. Over 700 people were in attendance including the mayor, council members Bennett and Curran, and County Commissioner Welch. With his grieving wife, parents, sons and family in the front row, I quickly learned a lot about this man whom I had never met and why the family asked to have the service at Pinellas Hope.
Rich Shireman was a social worker partnered with a member of the St. Petersburg Police Department. That policeman’s name is Richard Linkiewicz. The two of them rode the streets working with the homeless, addicts, people in desperate need of shelter, food, medicine, relief from an addiction. The City established several of these “teams of two” who work with all the organizations helping the homeless. “Rich and Rich” as they came to be known developed a bonding not just with each other but with those whom they were called to serve. Many of their “clients” were there to claim that “there but for Rich and Rich, I might be dead or in a ditch.”
Rich Shireman died last Saturday as a result of a motorcycle accident. Michael Johnson, a business man and downtown St. Petersburg resident who is also co-chair of the Homeless Task Force of St. Petersburg, has provided a text which Rich Shireman delivered in January of 2006 (the time of the tent-cutting in St. Petersburg. It reveals a lot about the man hundreds gathered to honor and remember tonight:
“The real question is this: at what point does it become acceptable to blame, drive away, harass, deny services or resources to, or denigrate a homeless person? How are we to separate the victims from the lazy, the malicious, the unmotivated, or the victimizers? And if we could cofidently discriminate between the deserving and undeserving, is a life of poor hygiene, poor nutrition, less than adequate health care, extremely high risk of violent victimization, and extreme exposure to the elements (not to mention all the little things that rob homeless persons of dignity) an appropriate or acceptable sentence or punishment for having made bad decisions or for simply having bad character traits?
Obviously, we cannot protect people from all the consequences of faulty thinking. We cannot even protect people from all the consequences of having been poorly raised or abused as children. We cannot and should not protect people from all the consequences of their criminal behavior. And those who suffer from addictions need to experience many of the negative consequences of their substance abuse in order to be motivated to pursue recovery. Nevertheless, there must be some limit to how much we are willing to let people suffer in our midst. There must be a point at which we say that simply because you are a human being and a member of this society we will not allow you to fall further. Richard Todd Shireman in January 2006.
His widow wanted him to be remembered at Pinellas Hope this night. It was the very same day that Pinellas Hope welcomed its 1000th overnight resident since its opening in December 2007. One man enters heaven’s gate and another Pinellas Hope’s gate. Nice job, Lord!