• Erica Smith

Why we must observe Homeless Persons Memorial Day

In 2019, here in Springfield, Illinois, 13 people who were homeless died. On Thursday, December 19, we will observe Homeless Persons Memorial Day to honor those we’ve lost this year.

The people who passed away are family members, friends, and fellow citizens. Those who knew them will share memories of things they said, things they did, the special ways they encouraged or helped others, and funny things that happened or rough times they survived.

There’s a line from my one of my favorite books, A Prayer for Owen Meany, that I frequently think of when we lose a member of our homeless community: “When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose them all at once; you lose

them in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and their scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in their closet and drawers.”

When we lose a member of the homeless community, we most often do not have the opportunity to say good-bye or tell the person how much they meant to us. Because people who are homeless tend to go suddenly with little warning, we struggle for closure. Usually there is not a funeral and the death is a shock; yet we don’t lose him or her all at once. We remember them for a long time.

Homeless Persons Memorial Day was created so that cities across the nation can honor and grieve those we miss. It is a time to note that people who are homeless often die young; the life expectancy is 20-35 years shorter than those who are housed. We must commit to addressing this crisis for what it is: a public health emergency.

More than that, however, this is an opportunity to show those who are living that we care and they matter to our community. We gather together to support each other, to remember those who we loved, and to show respect for the lives of all our neighbors.

All are welcome to join us for a Homeless Persons Memorial Day candlelight service of remembrance at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 19 at Helping Hands (1023 E. Washington). If you cannot attend this service, we encourage you to observe a moment of silence or honor this memorial in your own way.

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