In 1990 the National Coalition for the Homeless declared the 21st day of December (the first day of winter) Homeless Memorial Day. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless joined with organizations in more than 30 cities across the country to observe this day by hosting a candlelight vigil. Our Coalition for the Homeless joined with organizations in more than 30 cities across the country to observe
this day by hosting a candlelight vigil. Our was on Public Square, right in front of Terminal Tower. It was NEOCH’s seventh annual candlelight vigil to highlight the plight of homeless people.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather! The sudden change from a few chills to a real snowstorm overnight was appropriately recognized as elected officials, homeless people and NEOCH members tried to inform the crowd and the public at large about the injustice of homelessness.
Highlights of the event included the recognition of homeless youth, a discussion of the effects of the proposed health care reforms on homeless people and a remembrance of those homeless people who had died, paying the ultimate price for our nation’s failure to address this issue.
As a way of including homeless youth in this year’s vigil, both West Haven and Safe Space (the two area runaway shelters) agreed to coordinate a youth activity of creating a star that was used a visual symbol on the stage. In addition to reminding folks of the talent and imagination of teenagers, it served as a vision of hope to all individuals and employees of agencies who make a conscious effort to continue the fight against homelessness.
Lynn Bryan Norsetter, program director at Safe Space Station, boldly challenged the audience and the public to face the fact that there are teenagers who have nowhere to go. Funding for Safe Space and West Haven in slowly diminishing, and Lynn claimed that ‘some of our leaders are giving up on teenagers.”
On the same day, the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council jointly released a report addressing the impact of national health care proposals on the homeless population. Thus, John McKinney, director of Cleveland Health Care for the Homeless, was present to reiterate those findings and underscore the fact that health care reform his life-or-death consequences for homeless people.
County Commissioner James Petro and City Council President Jay Westbrook participated, and each said a few words to represent county and city support in addressing homelessness issues.
Other special guests included Beverly Murray and Gino Harris from the VA MedicalCenter Domiciliary and Debra Jones-Benn from Family transitional Housing, who told their personal experience of homelessness. They encouraged the thought of success; they said that is possible to get out of a homeless situation and offered a vision of hope to homeless people and homeless service providers. Their words were greatly appreciated, especially since they took the time on a cold, snowy night to share of themselves.
NEOCH Executive Bryan Gillooly offered a reflection on the lives of homeless people involved in the Coalition who had died on the Cleveland streets in the past year.
Following the vigil was an open reception at the Old Stone Church downtown. Esteem, Inc., organized a chorus men from St. Herman’s House of Hospitality to provide entertainment. Joe Lehner from the Catholic Worker recruited the volunteers and supplied outstanding homemade turkey soup.
NEOCH wished to thank everyone else who was part of the speaking program, including Rabbi Bruce Abrahms, the Reverend Mark Keinig and the emcee, Jean Andolsen. Thanks also tp the Candlelight Vigil Committee: Anita Bertrand, Donna Hawk, Mary Frances Harrington, Cathy Lowe, Terry Washam and Barbara Williams. Special thanks to Amy Barto of West Haven Youth Shelter, who organized and supervised the youth project.
Great job, everyone! With some hard work and some justice in federal legislative decision making, we won’t need a vigil next year!
Copyright the Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio February 1994