Photo of Homeless Persons' Memorial Day Vigil 2014 participants gathering at Luther Place Memorial Church, holidng signs bearing the names of men and women who died while homeless that year.
Ken Martin

Fifty-three men and women died without a home in the nation’s capital last year, on record. At least 2300 people across the country.

With 2015 winding to an end, the question resurfaces: how many have died without what the People For Fairness Coalition (PFFC) terms “the dignity and right” of a home this year?

PFFC, along with the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), are organizing a vigil on the night of Thursday, December 17 to precede Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day for the third year in a row. It’s main goal, according to PFFC co-founder Robert Warren, is t people know “there’s folks out there who are always in danger of dying while they’re without housing, and for a lot of those folks housing is healthcare.”

According to PFFC organizers, the event will kick off 5 p.m. Thursday at Luther Place Church with clergy, advocates, local politicians and people who’ve experienced homelessness invited to speak.

Shortly afterwards, a candlelight procession will begin. Those in attendance will be asked to carry the name of someone who has died. Two names return every year: Jane and John Doe. They represent the people who’s death didn’t make the count.

The procession will end at Freedom Plaza, in close proximity to the Wilson Building and the White House. There, an open mic, caroling, film screenings and Street Sense’s own art bus will keep the plaza busy well into the night.

Afterwards, participants plan to settle down to sleep for eight cold hours under a large heated tent. This is a sheltered look at the conditions which people experiencing street-level homelessness endure daily.

Organizers are still lining up speakers to discuss homelessness at the national level Friday morning. At 11 a.m. lunch will be held blocks away at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church ahead of the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day service at noon. This service has been held annually since 1990. Vigil participants will arrive by way of “funeral procession” from Freedom Plaza with a symbolic empty casket.

The 2014 vigil and memorial service cost $5,135 dollars, it’s far from cheap. Some of these funds were obtained through grants. Over 50 percent came from donations, according to PFFC records. Warren and other PFFC members are campaigning for monetary and in-kind donations again, an intrinsic part of what makes the event possible. This year they’ve taken a new approach by exploring online crowdfunding. When Street Sense went to press, PFFC had received over half of the $2000 goal posted on GoFundMe.com/pffc2015.

Warren hopes that those who can’t donate or volunteer will still help by taking civic action. He recommended signing Mayor Bowser’s pledge to end homelessness in the District, as well as contacting your councilmember to ask for their support in helping end the housing crisis.

“The biggest hope [is] that folks will be able to have housing they can afford,” Warren said. “They won’t have to live on the streets and die on the streets.”

If you have names you’d like to add to the list of losses for 2015, send them to Jesse Rabinowitz, [email protected]