I recently became part of a committee whose mission is to remember, in a tangible way, homeless people who’ve died in King County. I don’t know the folks this project strives to remember, so why does this project speak to me?
Over the past 12 years, the Homeless Remembrance Project Committee has developed and installed a Tree of Life gathering place in Victor Steinbrueck Park and bronze Leaves of Remembrance. The leaves, inscribed with names of the fallen, are scattered in sidewalks throughout the city — 155 so far in 10 locations.
Until I was at a social gathering with people involved in this project, I had no idea of either the project or the need to remember. My connection to homelessness in King County was through reading Real Change and donating to tent cities. I understood there are shelters and people living under the freeway. I read about Nickelsville and talked with people involved in making their move. I’m aware of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, and I know the annual homeless count numbers seem to increase every year.
But I didn’t feel I had a lot to offer to this seemingly insurmountable effort. I’m retired, on a fixed income, with no corporate leverage to call on. I’m not known by politicians except through my occasional petition-signing. How could I help end homelessness?
When I search my mind and heart about being involved in working with any part of homelessness, there’s a gnawing fear that any effort is a drop in a larger bucket. Homelessness is a complicated interaction of economic justice issues, political policy and societal inertia. I realized that I could easily let contemplating the enormity of these factors immobilize me.
Yet my fear is always accompanied by the firm belief that every person has the right to home, safety and dignity. I believe we are called to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being. Compassion is more than sympathy or empathy. It’s about taking action. It’s walking with those who are suffering and being compelled to seek justice alongside them.
My friends are clear that we offer ourselves in ways that we are able. I’ve just begun but already see the deeper purposes of the work of this committee.
The Tree of Life and Leaves of Remembrance around the city are tangible, visible reminders of homeless citizens who’ve died, often alone and outside, some violently. WHEEL/Church of Mary Magdalene and Women in Black gave birth to the Homeless Remembrance Project, and in the past 14 years their vigils have remembered more than 500 women, men and children who have died this way — 57 in 2013 and 18 already in 2014.
But the Homeless Remembrance Project also puts a focus on the need to end homelessness. Often, when national tragedies strike, people across the country become involved or express care because they see that hurt has come to other human beings. By marking each death with a person’s name inscribed on one of the Leaves of Remembrance, along with publishing individual stories on ourfallenleaves.org, The Homeless Remembrance Project challenges us to understand that the deaths of homeless people are tragic.
We hope to install at least 70 more Leaves of Remembrance this summer. At 9 a.m. Friday, July 25, 19 new Leaves will be dedicated at a new location: The Dutch Shisler Sobering Center. At 3:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8 at Seattle Mennonite Church in Lake City, five leaves will be added to our existing cluster of 21 leaves there.
Later dedications are planned for other Leaf host sites, and at new locations in the University District and at the Central Library. If you find yourself as compelled by this effort as I was, please visit our websites at homelessremembrance.org or fallenleaves.org
If you then find yourself wanting to be part of this work, please contact WHEEL at 206.956.0334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.