Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Candlelight Vigil

Collecting Names
As the Coalition tried to honor those who had died and had some experience with homeless in much the same way the military who lost their lives in Iraq were honored, we ran into some local resistance.  These are my words before the 2011 Homeless Memorial/Candlelight Vigil at St. Patrick's Hunger Center at 5:00 p.m. on December 21, 2011. This was the 25th Vigil held in Cleveland and we were apart of over 100 across the United States over the last year. We have posted a long discussion about why HIPPA does not apply to the National/Ohio Homeless Memorial Day on this blog.

“We know that there were exactly 4,485 US soldiers killed in the last ten years as a result of the Iraq war and an additional 314 members died from other Coalition forces (mostly from the United Kingdom).  As we leave Iraq, we could give you an honor roll of all those who died over the next four hours, because every week the US Military releases those names.  We can only give you an approximate number of wounded of 32,000 soldiers, because those soldier’s names are protected by federal regulations.  It is up to the soldier and their family to alert the community that they were wounded in Iraq.  We have no right to know their name, and the homeless community hopes that we never know their names as they recuperate from their wounds over the next 10 years. We do not want to see them show up at the shelters and we hope that the federal effort to end veteran’s homelessness is successful.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless reads the names of those who have passed away over the last year and have had some experience with homelessness on the first day of winter.  This is the 25th time we have done this activity in Cleveland, and the large number of names are painful to hear every year.  The first memorial was 1987 on Public Square with a handful of very cold and very committed activists reading the names of a couple of homeless people who had died.  We honor these individuals as friends who slipped through the cracks and often we could not help.  This is done in 105 cities throughout the United States and it is the least we could do to remember these moms, dads, sons, grandfathers, daughters, and grandmothers. We feel it is appropriate and respectful that we acknowledge these individuals in our community.

The largest homeless service provider in the Cleveland, Mental Health Services, refuses to provide names of individuals who passed away over the last year.  They have contact with the largest number of homeless people and administer the Central Intake in Cleveland, so Mental Health Services' information is critical to give us a full picture on the number of people who passed away over the last year.  We do not understand why MHS will not help us to honor those who died over the last year.  They are claiming a higher degree of secrecy than the US Military, and to the veterans in this room this is almost unimaginable.  So, I am sure that the list that we have today is not a complete list, and many of those friends we lost will be forgotten.   In my opinion this is deeply troubling that a group of people largely forgotten in life will also be forgotten in death.  I am sorry that we cannot remember the names of all those we lost over the last year.

We will read the names of those we have collected and then we will ask you if there are others that we do not read.  We will ask you to announce their names at the end of the service."

Brian Davis
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