AND HERE WE ARE, another year coming to an end and another homeless memorial marking the lives of the city's homeless and formerly homeless who died in 2014.

So far, 149.

I debated writing about the memorial again, and not just because I don't like revisiting the same events in this space too many years in a row.

I could tell all the heartbreaking stories of the men and women and families living on our streets. I could gather up all the numbers; there are about 6,000 homeless in the city. I could talk to all the committed advocates who work tirelessly to help the people many of us choose not to see.

But I wondered: How do I make people care past the few moments they might take to read this or attend the memorial today?

And then I talked to Nathaniel Hills Jr.

Homeless Memorial Day, an annual commemoration in more than 150 U.S. cities, will be marked at the homeless memorial at Dilworth Park outside City Hall at 5 p.m. Hills told me that he plans to take a deep breath and tell the crowd about his friend.

He was a fellow Marine, Hills will tell those gathered, and a Vietnam War veteran who, like Hills, 64, struggled with mental illness and chronic homelessness.

And this year he died after overdosing on prescription medication.

The two men met years ago while serving overseas, and later reconnected in Philly. "He was the same great guy," Hills said.

Things were going well for a while. Both were living in transitional housing. They were getting services at Impact Services Corp., which works to get homeless veterans off the streets. And, Hills said as his voice trembled a bit, they had each other to talk to about things only a veteran could understand.

Then, about six months ago, things unraveled for his friend. Maybe it was because of a relationship gone bad or one too many setbacks, no one will ever know for sure.

Hills asked me not to use his friend's name because he hasn't been able to find his relatives and he doesn't want them reading about his death in the paper. But he wants people to hear his story, and the stories of the city's other homeless, living and dead.

According to the January 2014 Point in Time Count, Philly had 5,738 homeless people, including those in shelters.

Of the 149 people being memorialized, at least 58 were homeless at the time of death, according to the Coroner's Office.

Today, hundreds are expected to gather to celebrate their lives and renew a commitment to ending homelessness.

But it's not just about remembering, said Christine Simiriglia, executive director of Pathways to Housing PA. It's about solutions, big and small.

Housing is obviously among the biggest, including the housing-first solution offered by Pathways that gives many of the city's chronic homeless housing with no preconditions.

The only "catch" is a home visit twice a month during which they are offered the kind of support from social workers and nurses and psychiatrists that help them become healthier and more independent. In the 6 1/2 years the program has been in place, Simiriglia said, it has moved more than 400 of the "most difficult to house" off the streets and into apartments across the city. They'll have an additional 45 units this winter.

But a roof doesn't necessarily make a home, so yesterday the city opened its first furniture bank, a place to which agencies can refer people who otherwise would sleep and eat on the floor in the first real home they have had in years. For more information or to donate, go to

Hills gets three minutes to talk about his friend today. When I asked him what he hoped to get across in those few minutes, he said he hoped that people hearing his friend's story would remember that every person they pass on the streets has a story.

Stories that deserve to be heard and told until everyone is home.

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel