For the 29th time in Cleveland, we read the names of the people who passed away in 2015. The same night we were reading the names of 68 people who passed away over at St. Malachi, Vickie Fann was quietly slipping away in her sleep over at the Community Women's Shelter. Vickie had a long history of health issues and probably never should have been living at a women's shelter with her breathing machine. When the other residents who regularly checked on her went to awake her in the morning she was gone. Staff of the shelter did all they could, but she had passed away in her sleep sometime during the night of December 21.
The Homeless Memorial is one of the more sombre and painful events of the Coalition. We spend five weeks calling the shelters and social service providers looking for names. We keep a list of those we hear about on the streets over the year, and we want to make sure that people are not forgotten in death as they are largely forgotten in life. This year we brought in professional help to host the event with Cleveland's most experienced master of nearly every ceremony, Dee Perry of WCPN. She has hosted Fourth of July with the Orchestra and MLK services at Severance. She has done New Year's Eve and the lighting of the chandelier at Playhouse Square along with her work as the host of the Sound of Applause on WCPN and WVIZ TV. Dee was gracious enough to lend her beautiful voice to reading the names of those who died over the last year.
Councilman Zack Reed was our keynote for the event and we recognized Chip Joseph for his long service to homeless people upon his retirement this year. Councilman Reed has had a great deal of contact with homeless people this year. A couple of his constituents have called regularly to complain about having to sleep in the Women's shelter and his office has asked for help with people sleeping outside in his ward. Reed served at the Cosgrove's Feast and Fellowship dinner for homeless people. He also attended the Homeless Congress in November and vowed to at least get a response from the shelter and/or the County to all the problems over at the Women's shelter. He agreed to come back in 2016 to talk about the ideas brought up by homeless people in 2015. At the Memorial, he talked about all the people struggling in his neighborhood in the shadow of the prosperity being developed downtown. Reed wanted a reorganization of the priorities in Cleveland to close the gap in the "two Clevelands" that he has become painfully aware of in his 15 years of elected service.
Father Tony from St. Malachi and I talked about the message from the Pope about serving the least among us after Pope Francis's visit to the United States in 2016. Deacon Larry Davis from the NEOCH Board gave a prayer for the dead and then we lit candles for the 68 names read at the service. Before the service started we gave a small token of our appreciation for Chip Joseph, the current director of Y-Haven. He was the former director of the Cosgrove Center and a huge advocate for homeless people, transitional shelters and services to addicts in our community. The photo above is Fr. Tony standing next to Chip as the names are read joining 100 other Coalitions in marking this first day of winter.
Everyone gathered hoped that this was the last service, but we know that there will be more Vickie Fanns in 2016. Any period of homelessness is really hard on a person's body. The sleep deprivation, stress and inability to get a good meal on a regular basis is horrible on a person's health. Bouncing around from one bed to another and the self medicating that so frequently goes on during homelessness reduce the lifespan of a typical human. We will most likely be back on December 21, 2016 to read another list of names on Ohio Homeless Memorial Day.
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