By Rebecca Lucero
Twin Cities Habitat Staff
Last week, Lan told the story of Paul – a 19-year-old youth experiencing homelessness who was tragically murdered the morning of December 8, 2015. Paul is one of too many of our community members who have died while experiencing homelessness.
On Thursday, December 17, 2015, a couple of weeks after Paul’s death, Simpson Housing Services hosted its annual Homeless Memorial March and Service. Hundreds of people slowly march the mile and a half from the Government Center in downtown Minneapolis to Simpson Housing in South Minneapolis, holding signs with the names of the reported 180 people who died in 2015, most while experiencing homelessness, some formally homeless.
We marched in silence through the December cold, walking the same steps that many people experiencing homelessness take in hopes of winning warm shelter and a bed during the weekly lottery. Once we filed into Simpson United Methodist Church, we read the name and lit a candle for every person on the list.
Community members were then invited to come forward to share a memory of a friend or family member who died in 2015. The stories made us laugh – one woman joked about how many Cutie oranges her friend would eat – hundreds! The stories were reflective – another woman named Amanda said, “I am thankful to not be on this list,” while telling stories of how her friend did not make it, but thus far, she had.
Most of the stories were heartbreaking. Two young children got up and lovingly misspoke when they referred to their grandpa as a “veterinarian in the Vietnam war.” They said, “I never got to meet him. I love him, I always want to see him.” Another woman spoke of her father who died in the spring at the age of 43 after years of struggling with chemical health issues. The week before he died he was thrilled to learn that she had tried again to get him stable housing and said about his daughter, “after everything, she still loves me.” In her memorial remarks she said that she always loved him, and never stopped.
Many people spoke of their friends who had died while experiencing homelessness but whose names were not on the list. Paul’s name was also not on the list. But while there was no sign or candle lit for Paul or the others missing that night, their memory clearly lives on.
Many of you who have helped build a Habitat home talk about the dedication as one of your favorite parts. I think it’s because it is the opportunity to meet the family who is buying the house, to hear the stories, meet grandma, enjoy some amazing food, to really join together as a community and a family. It’s a reminder that each of our community members has a name, a story, loved ones, memories. The Homeless Memorial March and Service serves a similar purpose – to unite us as a community. For me, it is deep call to action to work harder, form more partnerships, find more solutions so that there is less need for memorials and more opportunity for dedications.
Representative Rena Moran opened the program by talking about this as a “crisis.” She could not be more accurate. There are over 600,000 people in Minnesota who cannot afford their housing. Over 14,000 people are experiencing homelessness tonight in this cold and snow across Minnesota, and as I write this, it is twenty-five degrees below zero outside my window. Nearly half of those experiencing homelessness are children, youth, and young adults, like Paul. The fastest growing population for homelessness are seniors.
This is a crisis, indeed. But the good news is that there are solutions. And we at Twin Cities Habitat are part of those solutions every day. We are proud to partner with Homes for All, over 165 organizations, including Simpson Housing, that recognize that safe, stable, affordable housing is essential. In the coming weeks we will discuss more about the work that goes into gathering the stories and data through the Wilder Foundation. We will also talk about the upcoming legislative campaign at the Capitol and how we will need your help to ensure this community, your community, has the resources it needs to ensure a thriving and vibrant Minnesota.
This post is part of our January Weekly Perspectives series, dedicated to sharing experiences Habitat employees have had learning more about homelessness, how it affects us, and how to effectively take action.