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, PFFC, 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 a number of participants) and comprehensive (in a number of activities). Each year has seen an increase in sponsors and collaborators, funding, and media coverage.
On Dec 20, 2023, we gathered at Luther Place Memorial Church for our 11th Annual Homeless Memorial Vigil, honoring neighbors who passed away without the dignity of a home. People for Fairness Coalition, with community partners and members, marched and carried a symbolic casket from the church down 14th Street NW to Freedom Plaza, representing the hundreds who died without a home in our city.
On Dec 21, 2023, as part of the vigil, we walked through the Wilson Building, speaking to Council Members on behalf of the unhoused population, advocating for the right to a proper burial for those who die without the dignity of a home.
#HomelessMemorialVigil #HousingIsAHumanRight #Bethechangeyouwannaseeintheworld
Support People For Fairness Coalition: https://pffcdc.org/donate/
PFFC’s Seventh Annual Vigil: 2019
PFFC’s 7th Annual Vigil to honor and remember those who died in DC in 2019 without the dignity of home took place on December 19 and 20, 2019. Attendees included: individuals who had or were experiencing homelessness, individuals representing organizations that assist the homeless, activists, members of the DC government, and members of the community at large.
The Vigil began on Thursday, December 19 at 5 pm with an opening service at Luther Place Church featuring, among others: representatives from Unity Health Care, the Department of Human Services, 5th graders from the National Presbyterian School, members of Miriams Kitchen, and the National Coalition for the Homeless Speakers Bureau.
Following the service, participants held a candlelight procession down 14th St to a tent at Freedom Plaza where dinner was served. An evening of conviviality and sharing followed with some participants spending the night in the tent.
After breakfast on Friday, December 20 participants did a walk around the Wilson Building where they presented asks to Council Members and their staffers for increasing affordable housing in DC
Following a procession with the casket to the New York Ave Presbyterian Church a Homeless Memorial Service was held, as one of over 180 in the U.S. to remember people experiencing homelessness in 2019. Speakers included DC Council Member David Grosso, representatives from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, and members of DC’s homeless/formerly homeless community. Dana Woolfolk read the list of 81 people, too many, who died in DC in 2019 without the dignity of a home.
We are thankful to our many collaborators and co-sponsors who helped make this and prior year Vigils possible.
PFFC’s Sixth Annual Vigil: 2018PFFC’s 6th Annual Vigil, to remember those who died during 2018 without the dignity of a home, took place on Thursday, December 20 and Friday, December 21. The vigil’s organizers, many of whom are experiencing homelessness themselves, held the opening event at Luther Place Memorial Church on Thursday night. Several speakers knew the deceased personally and could speak to the experience of being homeless. Following the service, participants held a candlelight procession from Luther Place Church to a tent near Freedom Plaza, where organizers served dinner. More than a dozen people stayed in the tent—still wet and cold from the constant rain outside—until daybreak. Following breakfast and advocacy training on Friday, those who spent the night plus others who rejoined the event, did a walk around the Wilson Building where they advocated for increasing the amount of DC government funds dedicated to providing safe, affordable housing to people living in shelters and on the streets and for passage of the Michael A.Stoops Anti-Discrimination Amendment Act, which makes homelessness a privileged class in the …. The Vigil ended with a procession from Freedom Plaza up 13th St to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church where participants received lunch followed by a memorial service where the names of 54 individuals who died during the year without the dignity of a home, plus 83 individuals recently housed also died, were read while participants held candles in remembrance of these individuals who lives needlessly cut short. An estimated 105 individuals – representing DC’s community experiencing homelessness, organizations that deliver services to the homeless, and members of the DC government, including the DC Council – participated in the Vigil. The 2018 Homeless Vigil received coverage from Street Sense Media, DCist.
PFFC’S Fifth VIGIL: 2017
On Thursday, December 21, and Friday, December 22, 2017, PFFC held its fifth annual vigil to remember people who died on the streets in Washington DC during 2017. The Vigil very appropriately is in honor of Michael Stoops, fondly remembered by so many of us, who devoted his life to helping the homeless and who himself passed away this year.
Following the tradition of prior years, the Vigil began at 5 pm with services at Luther Church with over 150 in attendance. Following the service, participants carried out a police-escorted candlelight march down 13th St. to a large tent erected at Freedom Plaza. Following dinner there was an open-mike where people spoke, sang, read poetry remembering those who had died on the streets during 2017. Following an “overnight challenge” (spending the night in sleeping bags in the tent) and breakfast on Friday, December 22 participants did a walk-around to the office's DC Council Members where they presented a series of asks. Following the walk-around participants regrouped in front of the tent at Freedom Plaza for a police-escorted march, with an empty casket symbolizing those who died on the streets, up to 14th St to the New York Ave. Presbyterian Church where participants were given lunch. Following memorial service, co-hosted by PFFC and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), where the names of everyone who died on the streets or in shelters in 2017 were read, a smaller group took the casket to a garden in front of Luther Place Church where the ashes of Mitch Snyder and other homeless individuals are buried.
Five DC Council Members (Nadeau, Grosso, Gray, Bonds, Robert White) joined in and spoke at different times during the Vigil. The Vigil was covered by most of DC’s TV and radio media.
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 were some 60 participants, many holding placards 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 they had lunch and attended a memorial service 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 they planted the placards in front of the area containing the ashes of Mitch Snyder and other homeless individuals.
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 homeless 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.
Following breakfast on Friday, December 19 and a teacher in 30 Vigil participants did walkarounds to the office of the Mayor and offices of DC City Council. The walkarounds were designed to bring attention to the plight of individuals living on the streets in DC 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 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.
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
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 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.