Category Archives: Memorial day

Vigil honors homeless who died

Vigil honors homeless who died

Last night was the longest night of the year.  It was also Homeless Memorial Day corresponding to the first day of winter.    All across the country there were candlelight memorial services to honor the homeless that died in 2007.   Many died unknown, others had touched lives while living and had many friends that cared.  Sadly, some are still out there in the woods somewhere covered in leaves or snow where they fell.

Most died without any particular notice or ceremony despite having been born into loving families, having brothers and sisters and other loved ones somewhere, most not knowing of the passing.   Some never loved and always negelected, some mentally ill to the point that no one was allowed near in lifetime, often refusing help.  So sad.  The following story was printed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper today.   I’m proud that someone took the time to record this service for the passing homeless.

By GAYLE WHITE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 12/21/07

As the longest night of the year fell on Atlanta, about 100 people gathered on the edge of downtown Friday to light candles honoring the homeless dead.   In the chill of the evening, with MARTA trains rumbling by, they paid tribute to people most never knew.

 

Photo by Allen Sullivan/AJC   People gather during a vigil at Saint Joseph’s Mercy Care Services on Friday for homeless people who have died this year in Atlanta. Candles were lit for 55 people that died on the streets or in shelters.
 

Photo by Allen Sullivan/AJC    Sonja Mason (right) and others gather during a vigil at Saint Joseph’s Mercy Care Services on Friday.

“When homeless folks die, they just die,” said Robert Mason, director of community relations for St. Joseph’s Mercy Care Services, sponsor of the vigil, which took place outside its Decatur Street headquarters. “We want to bring attention to those folks who have passed in a quiet death and call their names.”

They sounded out 65 names in all- men and women who lived on the streets and in shelters, who were mentally ill, drug-addicted or just down on their luck.

Stacey Fortner

On a brutally cold day last winter, Fortner climbed a fence to huddle outside Central Presbyterian Church, where she often found friendship, doughnuts and hot coffee.

In her 40s, she was a “sweet lady” who was developmentally disabled, mentally ill and had abused drugs, said the Rev. Andy Gans, then director of the church’s outreach center. She was frequently robbed of the money from her disability check, he said, so she survived by prostitution.

Early one morning, Gans said, she told him she was tired of selling herself and tired of doing drugs. For hours he and his co-workers tried to find a rehabilitation program for her, to no avail. That evening, she stayed, as she always did, under an interstate overpass.

That cold day last winter, workers called 911 and sent her to Grady Memorial Hospital. Gans was with her when she died the next night.

Tim Green

Green was living with a girlfriend earlier this year after five years on the streets.   From 2002 until early 2007, he had stayed at shelters and had eaten in soup kitchens.

He had once abused drugs, said Al Wright, director of communications and security at Crossroads Community Ministries, Atlanta, but lately he was clean and sober.

On Oct. 17, Green came to Crossroads to spend time with Wright, who had known him for more than 10 years-from a time when Green had a job and a home.

“He sat here with me all day and we just talked and laughed and talked about old times,” said Wright, who added he believed Green was 43.  The next morning, Green was cooking breakfast when he dropped to the floor, the victim of an apparent heart attack. Efforts to revive him failed.

(…)  There are other stories and other related articles at the AJC. 

Next year maybe there will be more candlelight vigils.  I know there will be more homeless to honor – there always are.

Oldtimer

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December 21 – Homeless Memorial Day

December 21 

Homeless Memorial Day

memorial day poster

The date is chosen as the First Day of Winter – The longest Night of the Year

(Find the poster here)

For the homeless, any night can be a nightmare.   Danger aside, Winter is the worst season, any night with rain, sleet or snow is just plain miserable.   Unsheltered homeless die far too often in such conditions.   Our homeless heroes, our veterans die in the cold, sleet and snow too.

According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, homelessness dramatically increases the risk of illness, injury or death.  

Compared to the general population, the homeless :

Are 3 times more likely to die at any given age 

Middle aged men and young women are most at risk

Have a life span 28 years less than national average

Have 6 times the incidence of serious illnesses

Die from illnesses that are easily treated or prevented

Who live in shelters have high risk of communicable diseases

Have a high incidence of death from heart problems or cancer

Risk death on the streets from cold

Have 8 times the risk of dieing from Frostbite 

Too often die on the streets from unprovoked hate crimes

Lack access to quality health care. 

Here is a list of 2222 homeless people and their locations by city that are known deaths in 2006.  There were an estimated 17,500 homeless deaths in the United States last year, meaning that more than 15,000 homeless died virtually unnoticed or at least unidentified in 2006.  (I base that knowing that there are about 735,000 homeless in this country and the homeless die at 3x the rate of 800 deaths per 100,000 of the general population.)

Keep in mind that about 4,600 of those deaths are homeless veterans.  I base that on the knowledge that there are an estimated 195,000 homeless veterans and use the same rates as above.

There is no way to know how close that number is, but whatever it is, it is shameful that our homeless are so very vulnerable to death through the neglect of our system of care.   It is a disgrace to this country that almost 5000 of our heroes die in in the streets and alleys of our country each year.    

So when Homeless Memorial Day comes around, you can also remember the 4600 homeless heroes that did not die on the battlefield of war, but lived to die in the alleys, streets and woods of the country they served, uncared for, helpless and unwanted.  My fault as much as anyone for not speaking up as loudly as I should.    Can’t we all do more? 

Oldtimer