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At the end of December each year, communities across the country hold Homeless Memorial Day events to remember friends and neighbors who have died on the streets. We asked you to tell us about events in your area. HRC’s Katrina Crotts shares what you had to say, and her own perspective at a local event.
Katrina Crotts returned to the Homelessness Resource Center this Winter as an intern. Her first week back in December, she was invited by her co-workers to attend a local Homeless Memorial Day event. Below, she shares her impressions as well as highlights from events across the country.
The Cathedral Church of St. Peter’s was warm inside but I could still feel a chill creep up my spine. I sat and silently looked around. The service began with an announcement that many people were unable to attend because of the weather. The realization that some people live on the streets on days like this was sobering.
The Nineteenth Annual Interfaith Memorial Service in Boston opened with a Muslim call to prayer. One by one the first set of names was read from cards on a large stack of blankets—one for each name. With the reading of each name, a candle was lit. One name caught my attention: Jane Doe. Hearing this made me feel hollow. Everyone deserves a name and identity – this woman died with neither. I wondered what her name was and what she might have looked like. I prayed that she did not die alone and that she had people who touched her life…and whose lives she touched.
The service continued with reflections and more names. I watched as the pile of blankets got larger. I could not keep my eyes off of them. There were so many blankets that some had to be stacked on the floor instead of on the table. There were too many blankets for one year.
With the first day of winter comes the longest night of the year. Since 1990, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has sponsored National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day on or around this day. Each year, it brings attention to the tragedy of homelessness and to those who have died while on the streets. Over 100 cities across the nation sponsor events, such as candlelight vigils, collections, meals, and memorial services to honor lost friends and recommit to the task of ending homelessness (NCH, 2008).
Memorial Vigil in Denver, CO. Photo taken by Dennis Schroeder.
Reverend Alan Dorway of the First Presbyterian Church shared information about the Carson City, NV event held on December 21st. The community hosted a meal for approximately 80 people, with the help of four youth groups. During the dinner, community members sang Christmas carols and donated clothes. After the dinner, a vigil was held on the steps of the Nevada Capital Building. The vigil included three individuals who are currently homeless sharing their stories and offering a spirit of hope, peace, and community with their words.
Meg Costello, a Public Policy Analyst for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless attended the Denver, CO event on December 18th. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper hosted the annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil. Over 100 people attended and recognized 164 people who had died on the streets. After each name was read, the phrase “We will remember” was recited. Candles were lit by each member of the audience.
Hillsboro County Interfaith Memorial Candle Service in Florida
Cheryl DeFlavis of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, FL shared highlights about the Interfaith Memorial Candle Service held on December 22nd. Approximately 140 individuals came to honor those who had lost their lives on the streets. As each name was read, a candle was lit. A large candle was also lit for the unidentified names. Rayme Nuckles, CEO of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County said, “It is appropriate that we are holding this service outside on the coldest night of the year. It helps us highlight the struggles that our homeless neighbors go through every night on the streets.” Sleeping bags, blankets, hygiene kits, and snacks were handed out during the event to people who needed them.
Kathy Bolling, a case manager at the Salvation Army of Lacrosse, WI attended their event held on a very cold December 21st afternoon. The event began at lunchtime, when attendees shared a meal. A total of 64 shelter residents and community members attended. During the meal, attendees were invited to honor anyone they knew who passed away while homeless.
Vigil in Lee County Florida. Photo taken by John David Emmett for the News-Press
Lee County in FL had a crowd of 160 people to honor 16 men and women who died while homeless in 2008. Through music and readings, the group remembered and reflected. Janet Bartos, a coordinator at the Lee County Homeless Coalition told the crowd, “Each person we name tonight was one of us. These individuals died without the basic human dignity of having a home.” A man who is currently homeless also spoke, saying, “Everybody needs to wake up. We’re out on the streets, struggling everyday” (Morales, 2008).
LOVE Park gathering in Philadelphia, PA. Photo taken by Matt Rourke for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Philadelphia, PA recognized 85 men and women in John F. Kennedy Plaza, also known as LOVE Park on December 22nd. Over 100 people attended. Victims’ names were written on poles resembling large candlesticks. As each name was read, a bell was rung (Lin, 2008). Jennine Miller, Coordinator of Advocacy for Project HOME noted that the event had two purposes, “One was to remember the people who died and to call for a renewed commitment to end homelessness” (Leach, 2008).
December 21st brought the coldest day of the year for Racine, WI with a temperature of -2 degrees and a wind chill factor that felt more like minus 20 degrees. It was so cold that the event was canceled due to extreme weather. However, there were nine individuals who braved the cold weather to honor lost friends. The nine individuals shared their stories about why they came out and people they knew who had died. “Think of the people who are out there some place. There are people under bridges even on nights like this,” said Jean Verber, a HALO board member (Wicklund, 2008).
In Worcester, MA on December 17th, 25 people attended a vigil to honor people who have died while homeless. It was 31 degrees with winds at 10mph the night of the vigil, making the cold seem relentless. Seven people, including three women, were remembered on this cold December night. Worcester held two other vigils, one for a woman found outside near Park Avenue and Parker Street, and another for a woman who was sexually assaulted (Hammel, 2008).
NOTE: People who are homeless are three to four times more likely to die prematurely than members of the general population. Memorial Day events help make sure that these people are not forgotten.
Do you have highlights or photos to share from your local activities? If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will feature these events next Winter in preparation for the 2009 Homeless Memorial Day.
Hammel, L. (2008, December). Denied a home, but not farewell: Homeless advocates hope street deaths spark some solutions. Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Available at: http://telegram.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20081218&Category=NEWS&ArtNo=812180735&Ref=AR
Leach, S.D. (2008, December). Homeless honored at LOVE park rally. Metro Philadelphia. Available at: http://www.readmetro.com/show/en/Philadelphia/20081223/1/2/
Lin, J. (2008, December). A memorial for homeless people. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Available at: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/front_page/20081223_A_memorial_for_homeless_people.html
Moreles, P. (2008, December). Event honors 16 who died in streets. The News Press. Available at: http://www.news-press.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage
National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). (2008). National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/getinvolved/projects/memorial/index.html
Wicklund, P. (2008, December). Memorial service underscores the cold reality of homelessness. Journal Times. Available at: http://www.journaltimes.com/articles/2008/12/21/local_news/doc494efd301a1e1805224161.txt
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