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In Memory

Steve Kersker
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10/04/17 07:26 PM #1    

John Wallick

Stephen M. Kersker Died Jan. 29, 2013 at age 63. We honor him as a son, an uncle, a veteran, an advocate, a friend and our brother. Steve was loving, charismatic, annoying, humble, spiritual, bizarre, generous, happy, athletic, disciplined, intelligent, and brave.

Activist, organizer and volunteer for the city's homeless and mentally ill, Steve Kersker knows the routes that have brought these folks to him. from St. Pete Times April 2001

Steve Kersker, standing in the center, helps students and volunteers from Eckerd College as they prepare sandwiches for the evening meal. Kersker says plenty of volunteers come from churches and civic groups, and others just show up. 

Diane lives with a dog and a cat in a cluttered and ancient Ford van that has no mirrors or lights but still runs because -- well, no one can figure out why it still runs. She's absolutely certain CIA agents are looking for her, so living in a van is a practical matter. 

You can usually find Tangerine Man at a downtown bus stop having a detailed conversation with someone who isn't there. Buses come and go for hours. But Tangerine Man, who got his nickname from the volunteers at the shelter because he hordes free fruit, remains behind. 

And then there's Edward. He started hanging around a tattoo shop near his apartment just for something to do. As a cruel joke, some people at the shop dyed his hair red, dressed him in a skirt and videotaped him. Edward, 44, knew he looked ridiculous, but he didn't protest. He just wants everyone to like him. None of these people is a drug addict or an alcoholic.

Edward, Diane and Tangerine Man are part of an invisible population -- St. Petersburg's homeless mentally ill. They are manic depressives and schizophrenics. Most of them won't take their medication or can't get any, and because of that, they wander off or become so disruptive that the shelters and the assisted living facilities have no choice but to ask them to leave.

Loaded down with used blankets, a balding, thickly muscled man with a cross on his baseball cap threads his way to the middle of the dining room. He is Steve Kersker, director of Loving Others Together, the group that coordinates the nightly meals at the shelter. They appear at the door one or two at a time, red-faced and weary. Most are middle-aged men and women, but there are several families with children. They all seem to know the drill. Get your ticket, find a seat and wait. It's just a large dining hall. Folding chairs and tables. No pictures, no mirrors. No yelling or cursing allowed.

"Who's out on the street tonight?" he asks. Dozens of people get up and move quickly toward him. He hands out all 18 blankets, then gives out every donated coat, jacket and sweater he has. It's a full house tonight at St. Vincent de Paul. Cold weather tends to ensure that. Well over a hundred people are here, and they're still filtering in.

In the kitchen, volunteers slap baloney and cheese sandwiches together as fast as they can. The crowd is larger than anyone expected, so Kersker makes another trip to his car for the loaves of bread he was saving for the next day's meal.


It doesn't matter how they got here, Kersker says, although it would be nice if more of them made eye contact with the homeless people. Or even talked to them. If they broke that barrier between those who can go home after dinner and those who can't.

"Whenever I'm driving down the street, I always beep my horn and wave," Kersker says without looking up from his work. "It makes people feel like somebody knows who they are. Like somebody cares."

He knows the feeling. Once, he was on the other side of the serving line. He lost his home because of his mental illness, but managed to find room in a psychiatric hospital and a treatment center until he got better. Took him two years.

He never went hungry or without a place to sleep. But in every other way, he has been down this road. He knows that worse than the hunger or the cold is the shame.

"It took me a long time to realize I didn't have to be ashamed because I had a mental illness."



08/26/18 01:49 AM #2    

Arthur Graesser

I spent a significant amount of my childhood with Steve and visited him at a reunion or two ago.  He was unusual.  He played trumpet in the band and a combo I put together with Randy Clark.  We say James Bond movies together.  His father delivered half the babies in St. Pete and rode a motor cycle to travel to deliver them. Steve and I did bad deeds like dumping garbage cans in alleys and blowing up his parents pool with gun power. As an adult, he had a deep passion for the disadvantaged people and led homeless to protest in the parks.  He was brilliant, strange and fascinating.  He shared/led the goth part of my childhood.  

08/26/18 11:12 PM #3    

Mary Shofi (Volpe)

I'm afraid that I don't recall Steve kersker from sphs. I just read his obituary and life story connected and he must have been a wonderful man to have cared so much for down and out persons with the same unfortunate diagnosis of mental illness that he himself experienced. So sad and this still remains such a pervasive problem in our society with not enough funding and treatment centers to address the myriad of complications associated with mental illness. God help them all, especially in today's unstable environment.

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