<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1656550421284442&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Homeless Memorials: Remembering & Re-dedicating

12/21/16 02:57 PM | Collin Whelley | Poverty, Social Justice, Homelessness

Homeless Memorial.jpg

For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice on December 21 marks the longest night of the year. It has been marked by a rich history of gathering and revelry. Communities traditionally came together to keep a spark of hope alive for a new and brighter tomorrow--literally and metaphorically.

Today, in cities across the country, the Winter Solstice marks a different sort of gathering--one of remembrance, respect, solidarity, and responsibility. We remember those individuals, children, mothers, daughters, sons, and fathers we lost to homelessness and poverty--those we failed to help.

I am joining the memorial service at The Church on the Hill in Boston today, where we are coming together to remember those lost to homelessness.

How do we remember them?

We speak their names.

Why do we speak their names?

We speak their names to respect their humanity, to honor the dignity of life, and out of a shared sense of responsibility.

A person living and dying on the street is not often read their last rites or asked how they would like to be remembered. In many cases, they live a life in the shadows--many forgotten by society, family, and friends. To speak their names allows us--the speakers--to access this reality, and in doing so, we respect them as fellow humans--filled with wishes, hopes, and experiences.

We speak the names of people who died to respect them, their loss, and the dignity of human life.

We speak the names to honor and remember those who were not remembered.

We speak the names to feel the weight of responsibility and solidarity with those fellow humans that society--we--let slip away. To say their names is to remember our own humanity.

Similarly, 9/11 and Holocaust memorials use spoken name ceremonies to encourage society to reflect and grasp the scale of tragedy and loss. Unfortunately, the scale of loss to homelessness continues to grow. Homelessness is not an event. It is the daily reality for those who experience it. The list of names read during homeless memorial services is populated with names from deaths during the past year. These memorials center on a persistent unfolding tragedy--death by inequality.

Is it enough?

No. I don’t think so… but for some, it is all we have left. The name becomes a reason to come together and re-commit to ending poverty. The names give us context to feel what inequality means.


Learn from Collin about effective outreach to people experiencing homelessness in this t3 tapas video tutorial bundle:

Learn More

Image by Tavis Ford (CC by 2.0).

Collin Whelley

Written by Collin Whelley

Collin Whelley, a Senior Analyst at the Center for Social Innovation, has been working in the field of homelessness and poverty for more than 10 years. From a street outreach worker to an academic researcher, Collin has been searching for new ways to address issues related to homelessness and poverty. Collin's current interests include program and best practice implementation and evaluation as well as the politics of social justice.