Homeless Memorial: Sharing the Pain of Loss

Boyle Street Community Services (BSCS) filled with about 200 people on January 22 to remember and honour the lives of 57 people identified as having died in the previous year because of homelessness.

In a slow, respectful procession family and friends of those who had died took a moment to light a candle, until there was one burning for each person being remembered. Gary Moostoos, an elder who works at BSCS, closed the event with a prayer asking the Creator to open the hearts and minds of every individual to the needs of those struggling in the community. He noted that even though the people may have often not had a place to live, they did have places like BSCS where they were part of a community.

John Acheson, host for the event, reminded people they were gathered to grieve “needless loss.” The life expectancy of those who are living in frequent or continuing homelessness is shorter than for the general population. He said the best comment about homelessness he had heard was from a participant at the memorial a previous year who simply declared, “homelessness sucks.”

Stephanie Burlie used songs to celebrate the lives of those being remembered, including “Bridge over Troubled Waters,” with the line, “when you’re down and out, when you’re out there on the streets, I will comfort you” being particularly powerful.

The life expectancy of those who are living in frequent or continuing homelessness is shorter than for the general population.

The memorial has been presented by Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) for six years. The number of people identified each year has grown to nearly double the first year’s count. At the event, ECOHH president Keith Harding also announced that work is underway for a permanent sculpture memorial to the homeless.

The people to be commemorated each year are identified by community organizations and members. Care is taken to avoid duplication or including those where housing issues are not a significant factor in their deaths.

Some attending noted the irony of the memorial being held on the edge of the land being proposed for a large arena and entertainment redevelopment that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, when there are still thousands of people struggling to have basic shelter each day in the city.

Jim is an advocate concerning poverty, housing, and various inner city issues.

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