credit: Rodney Choice

An interdenominational service was held at noon on Dec. 21, National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, to honor the local men and women who had died without a home over the past year. The memorial service took place at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where lunch had been provided for all attendees ahead of the service.

The grandiose sanctuary had high ceilings and a gold eagle podium. Demonstrators placed an empty coffin on the altar, carried through the street from the vigil held overnight at Freedom Plaza. The casket, and the 46 signs, each adorned with a name, signified members from the local homeless community that had passed away since last year’s memorial service.

Associate Pastor Alice Tewell thanked the crowd for coming and told everyone that she felt honored to be with those that call out for justice among homeless people. Homelessness can afflict anyone.

Rabbi Susan Landfield and Rabbi Hannah Spiro reminded everyone that just because someone is homeless does not mean that they are invisible. Spiro sang in Hebrew “El Malei Rachamim,” a prayer typical of Jewish funerals.

The board chair of All Dulles Area Muslim Society, Rizwan Jaka, lamented the treatment of homeless people in the federal budget, saying that less than 1 percent of all the federal budget is spent on housing.

All faith-based leaders drove home the fact that no matter anyone’s religious background, everyone had the right to be housed.

“A lot of times when you’re homeless, you tend to forget that you have worth,” said Steve Thomas, speaking to the crowd about his 17 years spent homeless and his gratitude for the love and support he received during that time. “Every year I thought it would be the year they said my name [at the memorial],”

Photo of Steve Thomas sitting leaning on a walker in front of a symbolic coffin.

Steve Thomas speaks shares his personal experience with homelessness and remembers his fallen friends. | Photo by Rodney Choice

Reverend Beth Braxton of The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church ended the memorial with “go from this place thankful for the love of strangers.”

Attendees then lumbered outside in spurts of two or three people at a time. The crowd had dwindled significantly from the previous night and those who remained were sore and stiff. The signs naming the deceased were divided amongst those remaining for a final procession back to Luther Place, where the vigil began the night before.

On the walk, chants and songs erupted from the few walkers. As much noise that could possibly be mustered from the group emanated through the city streets.

The two-day National Homeless Persons’ Memorial observance came to a close on Dec. 21 when the name placards were placed on the symbolic gravestone commemorating many D.C. community members, including famed activist Mitch Snyder.

Washington, D.C.

1. John Boone, Age 66
2. Leopoldo Sotelo, Age 52
3. Bernadette Byrd, Age 53
4. Clifton Francis, Age 46
5. David Watkins, Age 46
6. Ivy Smith, Age 40
7. Juann Tubbs, Age 51
8. Albert Witherspoon, Age 56
9. Clifford Lawson, Age 56
10. Michael Smith, Age 54
11. Charles Carroll, Age 37
12. Valerie Stith, Age 50
13. Clarence Green, Age 40
14. Robert Dolan, Age 59
15. Weldon Moore, Age 56
16. Douglas Dirks, Age 48
17. Norman Lyles, Age 57
18. Shawn Simmons, Age 44
19. Randolph Johnson, Age 66
20. Robert Seligson, Age 68
21. Andrew “JR’ Burton, Age 58
22. Quincy Robinson , Age 64
23. Hollis McDade, Age 67
24. Tanya Joy, Age 57
25. Edward Hodges, Age 58
26. Catherine Clark, Age 71
27. Michael Woolfork, Age 48
28. Stacey McCormick, Age 52
29. Freddie Harris, Age 59
30. Freddy “Showtime” Cougar, Age Unkown*
31. Larry Michaels, Age Unknown*

Matched to a Housing Voucher in D.C., Died Before Move-in

32. Michael Jackson, Age 57
33. Shaun Turner, Age 41
34. Christopher Gross, age 52
35. Carl Ward-Bey, Age 50
36. Harold Steward, Age 58
37. David Stone, Age 57
38. Ricky Hall, Age 63
39. Larry Avents, age 70
40. Enzel Sudler, Age 56
41. Kyler Howe, Age 32
42. John Taylor, Age 59
43. Kanell Washington,
a.k.a. Kenneth Ward, Age 60
44. Majid Rashaad, Age 64
45. Timothy Ray, Age 52
46. Shon Martin, Age 44
47. Carlos Mora, Age 56
48. Alonzo Johnson, Age 62

Metro Area: Virginia/Maryland

49. Arnold Turner
50. Phillip Ward
51. John Craig Anderson
52. Edward “ddie” Bryant
53. Danny Earvey
54. Billie Pruitt
55. Nate

*name added during Dec. 21 service

For ongoing coverage of the D.C. Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day activities and others around the country, follow our Storify.