National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day takes place on December 22, the longest night of the year. Tonight some 200 communities will gather to read the names of their neighbors — neighbors who have experienced homelessness and who have died in the course of the year.
Tonight in Tallahassee, we will gather at the Kearney Center, a facility built to be both an emergency shelter and a one-stop center to assist folks who are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness. My primary connection to the Kearney Center is through Operation I.D., a program which helps folks to acquire a state-issued identification care. For many, getting an i.d. is the first step in the transition from homelessness to housing.
That Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day should come on the day Congress is poised to pass the largest tax cut in a generation is more that ironic. Among those who will pay for this egregious legislation will be neighbors served by the Kearney Center.
I was asked to give the “eulogy” at tonight’s memorial. Here is what I plan to say . . .
We have gathered to mark the passing of brothers and sisters in the human family, people who are often overlooked or even purposefully avoided in our everyday lives.
Homelessness is a moral issue. The fact that so many people are coping with homelessness in this land of plenty is evidence of a moral failure on the part of us who elect our officials, make our laws, and set our economic priorities.
The elimination of homelessness should be toward the top of Congress’ priorities. Instead, Congress has spent the past few months cutting deals for the wealthy and trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the electorate. Just a portion of those billions that Congress is about to hand over to folks who don’t need the money could be used to end homelessness pretty much overnight.
Although homelessness is a moral issue, to be a person coping with homelessness implies neither virtue nor vice. People become homeless for all sorts of reasons, and none of us has the right to judge.
Tonight is the longest night of the year, and it is also very close to the holy day Christians call “Christmas.” It is important to remember that the child born in Bethlehem was laid in a manger because there was no room for him, and that he grew up to be the Son of Man who had no place to lay his head.
If you want to find Jesus this Christmas Eve, don’t be so sure you will find him in church. He is just as likely to be here at the Kearney Center or camped in the woods, or sleeping rough in a doorway.
Tonight we read the names of fellow human beings who died in the past year. On this list will be friends to some of you, or acquaintances, or clients. Whether you know them personally or not, you can be sure that they are somebody’s child, or sister, or brother. Somebody’s mother or daddy, perhaps. Somebody’s lover.
I know at least one person on this list. We had become friends through the years, and he would drop by the church occasionally to let me know how he was doing. I was surprised to see his name on the list. I didn’t even know he had died.
It is a privilege to read his name. I believe that God knows every name on this list, and that is pleasing to God that we should remember these, God’s precious children.
Rick “Dirty” Daniel
Brian Farley Jones
John Kennedy (aka Dan/Casper)
James Arthur Lewis
Kaylyn Van De Wostine