VIGILS TO HONOR INDIVIDUALS THAT DIED ON THE STREETS

Memorial Service at New York Ave. Presbyterian Church

Memorial Service at New York Ave. Presbyterian Church

The National Coalition on Homelessness (NCH) has for several years organized memorial services in Washington DC and other cities in the US in December close to the shortest day of the year (the Solstice) to honor individuals who died on the streets during the year. In 2013 NCH approached PFC with the idea of expanding the focus to include an event the day before and the day of the memorial service in order to bring wider attention to the plight of individuals without housing in DC. PFC gladly took this on.

To date PFC, with NCH, has organized four Vigils: one held on December 19 and 20 of 2013; the second on December 18/19 of 2014, the third on December 17/18 of 2015; and the most recent on December 20/21, 2016. Vigils have become progressively larger (in number of participants) and comprehensive (in number of activities). Each year has seen an increase in sponsors and collaborators, funding, and media coverage.

PFC’S Fourth VIGIL: 2016


On Tuesday, December 20 and Wednesday, December 21, 2016, PFFC held it’s fourth annual vigil to remember over 50 people who died on the streets in Washington DC during 2016. An important theme was how needless many of these deaths were; had they received vouchers for housing in time they may not have passed away.

The Vigil began Tuesday late afternoon with an opening ceremony at Luther Place Memorial Church where over 150 attendees heard moving speeches from representatives from the People for Fairness Coalition, Catholic Charities, and the Way Home Campaign. The ceremony was followed by a candlelight procession to Freedom Plaza where with some 60 participants, many holding placards of with the names of those who died in 2016.

An open mike session followed dinner. A number of homeless and formerly homeless spoke of the challenges of living on the streets. Council Members Nadeau and Grosso spoke as did Patty Fugere, Director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless who delivered a message of hope. Before retiring for the night to sleep in the tent participants delivered packages of warm clothing (thermal underwear, hats, scarves, gloves) to people sleeping on the street.

On Wednesday morning Vigil participants did a walk through the Wilson Building. At meetings with DC Council Chairman Mendelson and with Council Members McDuffie and Evans participants presented their asks for investment in the FY 2018 budget in permanent supportive housing (PSH); targeted affordable housing (TAH); rapid re-housing (RRH); and support for adding homelessness as a protected class to the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977.

At 10:30 am Vigil members carried out their annual procession with an empty casket, to remember those who died on the streets, to the New York Ave Presbyterian Church where the had lunch and attended a memorial services hosted by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Following the service Vigil participants carried the casket to a patch of grass in front of Luther Place Memorial Church where the planted the placards in front of the area containing the ashes of Mitch Snyder and other homeless individuals.

The Vigil received wide media coverage, from: the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper; Street SenseNBC Washington, NPR, and WUSA 9

Vigil365

In our Nation’s Capital, nobody should die without the dignity of a home. That’s why The Way Home Campaign, Street Sense, and The People For Fairness Collation have partnered to launch Vigil 365. It aims to memorialize, in real time, individuals from the homelessness community who have passed away.

PFC’S THIRD VIGIL: 2015

The 2015 Vigil, began on Thursday afternoon, December 18, with a program held inside the Church of the Pilgrim attended by 150 people. Laura Zeilinger, Director of the Department of Human Services (DHS) was one of the speakers. Following the program between 60 and 70 people, holding a candle in one hand and placards with the name of people who died on the streets in 2015 in the other, walked down 14th St. to Freedom Plaza, which is located in front of the Wilson building (where the offices of the Mayor and the DC Council are located) and two blocks from the White House. Following a warm dinner, attendees participated in an Open Mike session.

The 2015 Vigil

Candle Light Procession to Freedom Plaza holding placards of people who died on the streets

Other activities that evening included: a screening of Movies on the Street in the Street Sense Art Bus; outreach to individuals sleeping on the streets to distribute hats, gloves, and scarves and to invite them to Freedom Plaza to participate in the Overnight Challenge. Over 40 individuals, including individuals living on the street, case-workers, and service providers spent the night on Freedom Plaza in a large tent.

Following breakfast on Friday, December 19 and a teach in 30 Vigil participants did walk-arounds to the office of the Mayor and offices of DC City Council. The walk arounds were designed to bring attention to the plight of individuals living on the streets in DC’s and the need for affordable and sustainable housing.

At 10:30 am a procession, accompanied by a DC Police motorcycle escort, carried an empty casket, honoring individuals who died on the street in 2015, to New York Ave Presbyterian Church where a lunch was served. At 12 noon a memorial service to honor those that died on the streets in DC in 2015 was held in the church sanctum. Following the memorial service, a procession took the casket back to the Church of the Pilgrim where the Vigil began the afternoon before.

The 2015 Vigil engaged new People for Fairness members; had an increased turnout from people who lack stable housing; and added several new partners and supporters. Partners and supporters included: Miriam’s Kitchen, The Way Home Campaign, the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), Street Sense, the Foundry Church, the Western Presbyterian Church, So Others Might Eat (SOME), and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI).

Articles on the Vigil appeared in a number of media outlets and PFC raised $5,400 exceeding expenses by about $1,500. Council Member Briane Nadeau spoke at the Open Mike on Thursday night. Council Member David Grosso participated in the procession from Freedom Plaza to the New York Ave Presbyterian Chuch. In addition, a short video was done of the 2015 Vigil.

PFC’s SECOND VIGIL: 2014


2014 Vigil

Procession with casket and motorcycle escort to the New York Ave. Presbyterian Church

The 2014 Vigil took place on Thursday, December 18 and Friday, December, 19. Sponsors included: Miriam’s Kitchen, The Way Home Campaign, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, the Fair Budget Coalition, the Coalition for Non-profit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED).The program began with a late afternoon ceremony in front of the Church of the Pilgrim on 14th St, by a green area in which Mitch Snyder’s ashes are buried in a common grave. This was followed by a candlelight procession down 14th St to Freedom Plaza in which participants carried placards with the names of people who had died on the streets in 2014. Following a warm dinner there a speaker program followed a training session on the DC budget. Several participants did outreach to individuals sleeping on the streets where they were given a packet that included warm underwear, socks, hat, scarves and gloves. Participants in the Overnight Challenge spent the night in a tent.

After breakfast on Friday PFC hosted a speakers program. Patty Fugere, Director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless gave a stirring keynote address. Following a procession with casket and motorcycle escort to the New York Ave. Presbyterian Church, participants were fed lunch followed by a memorial service organized by the NCH. Media coverage expanded this year. During the Vigil media footage was taken that ultimately became a movie called Fairness Rising, a collaboration with the Street Sense Media on the Streets program. Indi Media produced a video on the 2014 Vigil.

PFC’s FIRST VIGIL: 2013


Casket being carried from Freedom Plaza to NY Ave. Presbyterian Church for Memorial Service

Casket being carried from Freedom Plaza to NY Ave. Presbyterian Church for Memorial Service

PFC’s first Vigil began the evening of Thursday, December 19 at Freedom Plaza, which is directly across from the Wilson Building, the seat of DCs Mayor and City Council, and two blocks from the White House. The event received support from Miriam’s Kitchen and The Way Home Campaign. It began with an Overnight Challenge where members of PFC and others slept out under the stars on Freedom Plaza in order to show solidarity with individuals who regularly sleep on the streets.

DC Council Member Jim Graham invited Vigil participants to a Christmas Party at the Wilson Building where they shared with DC Council members and staffers what it was like to sleep on the street and discussed actions needed to end chronic homelessness in the district. Later in the evening Mayor Grey came to Freedom Plaza where he spoke with participants for over a half an hour.

On the morning of Friday, December 20 PFC hosted a well-attended event on Freedom Plaza. An array of speakers spoke about the challenges faced by people who live on the streets as well as programs designed to help needy DC residents to obtain affordable and sustainable housing. This was followed by a procession with police motorcycle escort up 14th Street to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. At the front of the procession was an empty casket, symbolizing individuals who died on the streets in 2013,. The Vigil ended with a memorial service at the church. Saturday’s Washington Post featured a front-page article on the Vigil with a large photograph of the procession.  CNHED produced a video of the 2013 Vigil.