Memorializing the Marginalized

Ernst Barlach’s “Schlafende Vagabunden” (Sleeping Drifters) 1912

Yesterday I heard about two homeless men who were killed in Baltimore this past week. A man had tried to rob them, they didn’t have anything, and so then he killed them.

It reminded me of a memorial service that is held in Atlanta every year for the city’s homeless men and women who have died. A friend of mine is a big part of the service each year. He told me that last year, they honored 47 people, but that the actual numbers were most likely much higher because many of the deceased died anonymously. Of those 47 people, the majority were younger than 50 years old, and 15 committed suicide. He wanted word to get out about the event because it breaks his heart to work among people who died without any recognition that they lived.

Here’s how their service works: local homeless outreach groups bus in homeless men and women to a large church, where the attendees all share a meal together. After the meal, they move into the sanctuary for the service. Someone reads the names of each person who died, and the church bell rings. Then a homeless person brings forward a cross with all of the deceased’s names written on it and lays it at the altar.

Baltimore has a similar event: late this year, perhaps the two men who died this week will be remembered at their vigil.

Does your community have a homeless memorial service or candlelight vigil? Odds are they do: last year, over 150 cities sponsored events to honor the homeless people in their communities who had died. A quick Google search can probably help you find out.

If your community does not have one, perhaps you and your place of worship or civic group could organize one for the coming year. The National Coalition for the Homeless has resources to help you get started. The National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day is on December 21, so many services occur around then – which means plenty of time to prepare something if you’re interested.

One Response to “Memorializing the Marginalized”
  1. Darrell says:

    I wonder how many of those homless people who die without any recognition that they ever lived each year once wore the uniform of their nation’s military service. More than likely they wore it with pride and they gave what they had to give but they ended up homeless and dead.

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