[Hpn] In Death, Homeless Man Finds Friends

William C. Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sat, 15 Jan 2005 09:37:53 -0500


In death, homeless man finds friends

By Mark Hansel
Post staff reporter

Old, young, male, female, well-dressed and not, the group of about 50
mourners sat shoulder to shoulder in a Covington funeral home Friday to
honor the homeless man whose life -- and death -- had touched each of them.
They came to show that although Joe Young froze to death alone beneath a
railroad bridge Christmas Eve, he did not live his life without friends.
Rachel Winters of Welcome House, a homeless advocacy group in Covington,
wept as she spoke of the bond she developed with the 57-year-old Young.
"Because all of you are here I don't think his life was without meaning,"
she said.
Authorities said the Air Force Vietnam veteran died in single-digit cold
just a few blocks from a shelter where he had previously stayed and just a
few days before he was to move into an apartment that had been arranged for
"That was the saddest thing," said Rev. Gregg Anderson of the 70 x 7
Evangelistic Ministry in Highland Heights. "He died frozen like a giant
block of ice under a bridge, alone."
Anderson volunteered to conduct Young's funeral, held at Linneman Funeral
Home in Covington. Like several other of his listeners, he had a story to
tell about a personal encounter with Young.
That was in 1997, when Anderson was volunteering at the Fairhaven Rescue
Mission in Covington. When Anderson told Young he was planning a mission
trip to Latvia, the homeless man pulled $50 from his pocket and handed it to
the preacher.
"I tried not to take it, but he insisted he would be offended if I didn't,"
said Anderson.
When news got out about Young's death, friends and strangers alike stepped
forward to make sure he had a decent send-off. They gave $2,100 total, with
gifts ranging from $1 to $500.
Following the funeral service, mourners walked to the corner of 7th and
Washington streets, where a military honor guard fired off a 21-gun salute.
Simon Kenton American Legion Post 20 and Ralph Fulton VFW Post 623, both in
Elsmere, provided the salute, and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 88 of
Florence sent the color guard.
The flags against the backdrop of the streets of downtown Covington, where
Young spent his last years, seemed to many to sum up his life. "He was a
veteran and a man of the streets," said his friend, William "Red Dog"
Strutz, who is also homeless.
The final stop in the ceremony was the 11th Street viaduct.
Larry Schuler of the Recovery Network of Covington, a homeless advocacy
group, led the way to the spot where Young died. Schuler had managed to line
up an apartment for Young; he was only a week away from moving in when he
The mourners picked their way down concrete stairs, through an overgrowth of
foliage, and down a steep embankment to the underside of the bridge, where
Young had a campsite along the railroad tracks under the bridge. The area
was littered with beer cans, empty generic cigarette packs and broken liquor
The mourners pulled their coats a little tighter around themselves as a
stiff wind cut through them. The 30-degree temperature was chilling, but
still a heat wave compared to what Young endured on his last night alive.
Schuler poured Young's ashes from an urn onto the ground that he had called
home. "Joe, you're gone but you're not forgotten," Schuler said.
Then he walked over to Strutz, who was sitting on the railroad tracks with
his head down, drinking a quart of beer.
"Find a warm place to stay tonight and come see me tomorrow," Schuler
pleaded. "I don't want you to be the next Joe Young."

Publication Date: 01-15-2005