By One Step Away staff
We gather each year, holding aloft simple signs bearing someone's name. We hold single green candles, lit against the wind to remember our neighbors, friends and loved ones. We gather to remember those homeless and formerly homeless Philadelphians who died in the last year, and to call for an end to homelessness.
Philadelphia's annual Homeless Memorial Day is usually scheduled for Dec. 21 — the first day of winter, the longest night of the year. Because that day falls on a weekend in 2014, Homeless Memorial Day is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 18.
Some of those memorialized had broken the cycle of homelessness and escaped the streets, but one of the hazards of homelessness is serious long-term health problems acquired on the street. Too often homelessness will cut short a life even after a person overcomes it. Speakers read solemnly the roll call of names, the list of people who have died during the year.
Each year more than 15,000 people — including children — utilize Philadelphia's homelessness system. Hundreds more live on the streets. Despite all the money Philadelphia (in fact, every city in the nation) spends to fight homelessness, still there are not enough resources to ensure that everyone has a place to go.
The purpose of the Homeless Memorial is not only to mourn those we lost, but to unite in the mission to end homelessness. We remember those we lost, to pledge that they did not die in vain.
That is why the theme is: Remember, Hope, Heal.
The memorial ends with a call to end homelessness:
Homelessness is an intolerable condition. It is degrading to persons to experience homelessness and a disgrace that our society permits homelessness. No person should have to live or die homeless.
At stake are the very things that all of us need: safe, decent and affordable housing; employment with adequate income; a safe and a healthy environment; and the assurance that necessary social systems will be there for us in times of emergency.
The City of Philadelphia cannot be a truly healthy, safe, and economically vital city until we fully address the struggles of our sisters and brothers and our children who are facing homelessness.
We call on all members of our community to come together with our resources, our talents, and our commitment to end the scourge of homelessness and ensure that all Philadelphians have a place to call home and a chance to live dignified and productive lives.
We call for an end to homelessness.
Pennsylvania continues to fall short in ensuring health coverage to all our citizens, especially many of our poorest brothers and sisters. If we want to see the day when no citizen has to live or die on our streets or in shelters, we need just public policies that ensure access to quality health care, along with a strong social safety net and meaningful economic opportunities, for all Americans.
We use this occasion to call on all Philadelphians and all Americans to recommit ourselves to ending homelessness.