By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – More than one hundred people gathered on Thomas Paine Plaza, with lit candles on Wednesday evening, holding signs with the names of the homeless and formerly homeless Philadelphians who died in 2012.
With the official start of winter just days away, the brisk cold is a reminder of the dangers that plague the homeless.
“Every year, we come together to express our grief and loss,” says longtime homeless advocate Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME. She says Homeless Memorial Day is a day to remember that darkness that many suffer while they are homeless, but also a day to shed light on a problem that impacts so many.
“Rarely did any of the presidential candidates mention any of the millions of Americans who struggle everyday with poverty and homelessness,” Scullion told the crowd. “It was as if our marginalized brothers and sisters were invisible. But we, here today, we refuse to let any person be invisible, either in life or in death.”
Friends took the podium to tell the story of those who died. Andy Stahler of ACT-UP spoke about the homeless who must fight HIV/AIDS while living on the streets.
“The current wait-list in Philadelphia for AIDS housing is over two years,” says Stahler, who memorialized his friend James Lawson, who lived with AIDS while homeless. “This is unacceptable. People with AIDS should not have to face this winter homeless. Many of them, like my dear friend James, struggle to survive and ultimately die waiting.”
The program also included poetry, music, a signature memorial and a roll call of the names of the more than 100 people who lost their lives in 2012.
“Many of these men and women actually died on our streets in such inhumane and tragic situations, even livbing on our streets and abandoned houses,” Scullion tod the crowd. “And some were blessed to die in their own home surrounded by friends. But most of them died too early because of their experience of homelessness that compromised their health.”
Organizers say the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council has sponsored the Homeless Memorial Day Service since 1990.