The Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day recognized those who died homeless in the past year on Thursday across the country.
Strategically planned, the event takes place on the winter solstice.
“We come together on the winter solstice because it’s the shortest day of the year for most people, but the longest night for the homeless,” Tim Houchen, a homeless advocate, said.
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) supported the nearly 100 events registered for the day. In cities across America, people gathered to participate.
“The service provides an opportunity to both pay respects to the dead and calls attention to those who remain homeless,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
The names of homeless people who died are read. After each individual recognized, a student brings a candle to the front of the church.
“It can be an emotional experience,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The candle procession finishes by acknowledging unlisted names of the people who passed away unreported.
The purpose is to recognize those lost each year as full individuals deserving that last, basic respect.
The event is emotionally-charged, and it’s used as a rallying point to support organizations like NCH.
Robert Warren, an advocate, organized the event in Washington D.C. last year. Pam Fessler, a member of NPR, attended and reported Warren’s speech.
“We know that there’s going to be folks sleeping out there in the cold, dying and getting sick, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Warren said.
“No one really knows how many homeless individuals die each year, but about 2,700 were expected to be commemorated this year at similar events across the country this week,” Fessler reported. “The homeless memorials have been held for more than 25 years. Each year, organizers say they hope it’s the last.”
Organizers hope to drum up support and influence the community to impact change. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) has a cause:
“At these events each year, we remember those who have died and we strengthen our resolve to work for a world where no life is lived or lost in homelessness. We state clearly, together with others in scores of communities across our nation, that no person should die for lack of housing.”
Many of the people recognized in the service didn’t die directly from being homeless– rather, the impact homelessness has is indirect.
“Our guests are vulnerable,” said Ed Jacob of Franciscan Outreach (a leading provider for homeless services and sponsor of the memorial service). “It’s not just exposure to the elements. It’s not just cold. They don’t have the stability. They don’t have the sense of security that you and I have.”
The events vary across communities but usually include the name reading, candles, prayers, marches, and moments of silence, according to the NHCHC.
The point of recognizing tragedy, then, is not a reaction but to prevent it in the future. Herein lies the controversy of how to solve such an immense issue. Regardless, the events raise awareness to promote action.
Houchen, now 59, heads Hope4Restoration, whose mission is “to address chronic homelessness in our communities by promoting solutions that benefit those experiencing homelessness and the communities that are impacted by homelessness.”
Houchen has a unique insight as a current advocate and formerly homeless individual. Hope4Restoration website stated:
“Through his experience living on the streets he has the knowledge of barriers that chronically homeless individuals must overcome to get back to a place of restoration. The desire is to provide existing resources and services and identify those that are non-existent and find ways to provide those resources to the chronically homeless.”
While deciding how to address homelessness is controversial, the fact that it’s a societal issue is not. The events held on Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day puts it in the minds of the public.