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Homeless Memorial March 2022

December 15, 2022 @ 5:00pm 7:00pm

38th Annual Homeless Memorial March and Service

Thursday, December 15, 2022

5:00pm |  Vigil and Silent March 

March route begins and ends at Plymouth Congregational Church, looping through Loring Park.

6:00pm |  Service of Remembrance

Service will also be livestreamed on facebook.com/simpsonhousing. Join us after the service for coffee, hot cocoa, and cookies.

Minnesota Homeless Memorial March and Service

For 38 years, hundreds of community members have come together for the Homeless Memorial March and Service to remember people who have died while homeless. You can submit names of friends/loved ones who passed away for next year’s memorial anytime by using the form here.

History

Honoring a departed friend

Eric was a frequent guest in the early days of the Simpson Men’s Shelter.

He was a quiet, somewhat shy Vietnam war veteran. Although he pretty much kept to himself, everyone knew and loved him. In the summer of 1984, days had passed since shelter staff and volunteers had seen him. This happened from time to time, so no one thought too much of it at first.

But a few days later, they got the news that Eric’s body had been found by the railroad tracks nearby. He had been beaten to death.

Simpson staff and volunteers had witnessed many people experiencing homelessness die without anyone honoring their life. Simpson United Methodist’s pastor, shelter staff, volunteers, and Eric’s family members gathered shortly after he was found in order to honor his life — as well as the lives of a few other people they knew had died that year. From that point forward, a nearby house that was a transitional home to three men at the time was affectionately referred to by Simpson staff and volunteers as “Eric’s House.”

The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless (MCH) heard that Simpson had held the service and proposed that it become a larger event, including names of as many people as they could gather. In December of 1984, the first official Minnesota Homeless Memorial was held, launching the collaboration between Simpson and MCH that exists to this day. Unidentified people began to be included throughout the years, as it was presumed that these people were, quite likely, homeless.

In the early years, the memorial was always held on December 21 (the winter solstice, the beginning of winter, and the longest night of the year) to coincide with the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day designated by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). The event eventually transitioned to be held on the third Thursday in December, as this proved to be the most well-attended night.

The lighting of an individual candle with the reading of each person’s name was a unique aspect of the event and has since been replicated by other memorials. In the early years, when funding was especially tight, there were plans to reuse candles from one year to the next. But Carla Gainey, Simpson Executive Director from 1987-1997, was adamant that new candles be purchased every year, saying, “Everyone should have their own candle.” The practice continues to this day.

In the mid 1990s, a march was added to the evening’s proceedings. The Shelter Providers Action Association (formed to help combat funding cuts at a time when homelessness was increasing) began organizing the march portion of the memorial to help raise awareness of the issue of homelessness. It was initially a protest but gently grew into a silent vigil.

Each year, marchers carry individual signs with the name, age, and hometown of every person being honored. One of the first years of the march, a Duluth woman traveled to the service. Her mother was homeless and had been murdered. To see her name on a sign was a moving experience for her. This started a tradition of allowing people to take the signs that displayed the name of a person they knew who had died.

In recent years, the reading of the names has been divided into currently and formerly homeless as more and more people are moving into housing.

Further coverage can be found in this Pioneer Press article.

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