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July 31, 2014, 7:30 am

Memorial puts focus on deaths of homeless

The lot next to the Broad Street Ministry filled with people carrying placards and candles despite drizzling rain to attend the annual homeless memorial Wednesday at 315 S. Broad St. Nearly two hundred people sang songs and paid tribute to those who died while homeless throughout the year.

The event, whose theme was “Remember, hope, heal,” was hosted by organizations including Project H.O.M.E. and the American Red Cross.

Guests included Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and other advocates for the homeless and formerly homeless. Participants read poems, stories and shared their personal experiences.

“I attend every year and give out a citation,” said Blackwell, who also hosts a holiday party for the homeless every year. “We all are children under one God and the question is answered, are we our brothers keepers? Of course, we are.”

This year, 120 homeless people died in the city as a result of homelessness or related illnesses acquired as a result of being homeless.

“We spent a lot of money in this city on homelessness, and yet we still have people in the greatest country in the world who live in subways and on grates and sleep on streets and we should not have it,” said Blackwell. “I’m hopeful that I will live long enough and serve long enough to see the day when everyone has the resources, where everybody has some place to go.”

Project H.O.M.E. is nationally recognized for its work to eradicate homelessness and to empower those struggling to get back to independent living, was one of the key organizers of this event. In all, approximately thirty other organizations joined in the effort.

“The Homeless Memorial was initiated twenty years ago by the National Coalition of the Homeless, with the idea that local communities would find some way on or near the first day of Winter to commemorate, honor, grieve and remember who were homeless or formerly homeless who passed away,” said Will O’Brien of Project H.O.M.E.

During the event the names of the 120 people who died in the city were read, and a poster placed on the gate where their names could be inscribed by friends, family members and loved ones.

Many of those in attendance carried placards with the names written on them.

“A good number [of those who died] were people who died in abandoned houses, some on the streets, some in shelters and border homes, places that really weren’t fit to live,” said O’Brien. Some who were memorialized managed to escape the trap of homelessness before their deaths, but later succumbed to ailments and conditions acquired while on the streets.

“There is no question that one of the results of long term homelessness is serious health problems and can be fatal if people don’t get off the streets,” said O’Brien.