Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Means Homeless Memorial Night

Eleven names will be added tonight to the wall that holds up the on-ramp to 376 East at the end of Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh. Every December 21st since 1990 Operation Safety Net has placed small plaques with the names of homeless people who died on the streets of Pittsburgh over the last year. The ten plaques added this year brings the total up to 116. Operation Safety Net Founder and Medical Director Dr. Jim Withers says a rather quiet candlelight service will be held where those who knew the people whose names are being memorialized can speak. At times family members who have not had any contact with their loved ones in years will be there to say goodbye. The event is held in conjunction with the National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day. Withers says it is symbolic to hold the event on the longest night of the year, and night that is often very cold. The service is usually only attended by a “hand-full” of homeless but Withers says he knows it is very important to them, “In years past when we have not been able to get the names up fast enough people have added them by hand.” Most Pittsburghers do not know about the memorial and Withers says that is okay, “It has the dignity to just be there. The people who want to know about will go there.” Withers says the average homeless person lives to the age of 40. He says he would love to see the day when no more names are added to the wall.

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