On December 21, 2012, the winter solstice and the longest night of the year, approximately 50 people braved snow, a 17-degree wind chill index, and up to 38 mph wind gusts to join Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and Operation Safety Net in remembering seven individuals who died in 2012 while living on the streets of Pittsburgh. In the midst of these wintry conditions, a candlelight memorial service was held at the busy downtown Pittsburgh intersection of Grant Street and Fort Pitt Boulevard. There, a wall of memorial plaques honors unsheltered persons who have died while living on the streets.
Dr. Jim Withers, founder and medical director of Operation Safety Net, part of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, welcomed participants and offered the opening reflection.
Cashmere Gore, a representative from the Office of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, read a proclamation declaring December 21 “National Homeless Persons Memorial Day.” Representatives from HUD, Community Human Services and other providers were also in attendance.
Pittsburgh Mercy Health System president and CEO Sister Susan Welsh, RSM,offered the invocation. Operation Safety Net case manager, Melody Miller,offered a few words and laid a wreath in honor of Jenny Williams, the former director of Healthcare for the Homeless who died in 2012. Outreach specialist, Mike Waoka Sallows, sang a Native American healing song in traditional Sioux language.
Valdez Thompsonshared “To Be Homeless,” a moving, original piece of poetry that he authored. Stephanie Murtaugh, senior director, Mercy Community Health,read the names of the individuals who died while living on the streets of Pittsburgh in 2012; a second wreath was laid at the wall in their honor.
Sister Susan offered a brief closing prayer. Participants then enjoyed light refreshments, organized by Ken Ingold and the Wellspring Drop-in Center.
Donations of new men’s hats and winter gloves were collected for distribution to people served at the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter.
Organized annually since 1998 by Operation Safety Net, the service coincided with National Homeless Persons Memorial Day. The event brings community awareness to the plight of people who are homeless and to the pervasive issues that affect this vulnerable population HUD serves. Similar observances and events were held in more than 150 U.S. cities.
For more information about Operation Safety Net, visit www.pmhs.org.