Several hundred people gathered late Tuesday afternoon at John F. Kennedy Plaza to observe Homeless Memorial Day and bring attention to the 101 people in Philadelphia who struggled with homelessness but died this year.

As participants, including those who have lived on the streets, held candles and signs with each person's name, the names were read aloud in the frigid evening air at LOVE Park.

Among them was Nicole Piacentini, one of the victims in the Kensington stranglings.

Others could only be identified by first names or nicknames, including John, Rick, Skip, Vanessa, and Shabazz.

Not all the people named were homeless at the time they died, but all had experienced homelessness at some point, organizers said.

Oliver Burrus, 48, held a sign for a woman he never met, Deborah Harmon.

Burrus, who said he had been homeless and drug-addicted for most of 20 years, now lives at the Susquehanna Park recovery house in the Strawberry Mansion section.

He said he had kept busy with several daily meetings to help with his drug recovery and that his next step is to get his GED.

Burris, who came to Philadelphia from New York about 15 years ago, said he was trying to keep his life simple, "just making the meetings, go to school, get my life back in order, and leave the rest to God."

Also Tuesday, the city's Homeless Death Review Team, convened by the Medical Examiner's Office, released a report analyzing 43 people who died while homeless in 2009.

The report, described as the first of its kind in Philadelphia, found that the most common contributing factor in the deaths reviewed was alcoholism or drug intoxication.

Sister Mary Scullion, founder of Project HOME, led the ceremony and addressed the tough economic realities being faced on many levels.

"Unemployment and poverty are increasing, foreclosures continue at a record rate, and shelters and food pantries cannot meet the increased demand," Scullion said.

"We use this occasion to call on all Philadelphians and all America to wake up and recommit ourselves to ending homelessness," she said. "While we seek economic solutions for our country, we cannot forget our most vulnerable citizens."

Scullion warned supporters that politicians facing shortfalls in government budgets would look to slash social programs.

"We also recognize we're in a new political climate in Pennsylvania," she said of the outcome of November's elections. "We have to get involved more and more in our civic engagement."

According to Project HOME, homelessness in Philadelphia declined in the late 1990s, but has been on the rise since 2000.

The most recent overnight count of people sleeping on the streets found 352 in Center City. That same night in November, about 2,600 people were living in emergency shelters, including about 1,000 children.

City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell also appeared at the commemoration to present Scullion with a proclamation recognizing Homeless Memorial Day, which is marked annually on the first day of winter.

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.