On this Winter Solstice, Indy community members gathered together Downtown to honor 45 people who died homeless in Indy during 2012.
The Homeless Persons' Memorial, organized each year by the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), presents an opportunity to reflect upon the significance of these losses. Last year, 29 people were honored.
"This special service causes us to pause and remember men and women who may otherwise be forgotten," Christy Shepard, CHIP executive director, said in a news release announcing the service. "Their lives remind us that ending homelessness impacts lives, and that services are critical to transitioning individuals and families from homelessness to stable housing."
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At Christ Church Cathedral, which sits on the Circle Downtown, the sanctuary was warm and welcoming. I stepped in from the cold and a kind greeter offered me a black-ribbon pin, which I placed on my scarf, directly over my heart.
A quiet peace held the space, faces were somber, but smiles also appeared — soft, safe, and comforting gentle smiles of compassion and understanding.
Just a few hours earlier, our nation collectively stood still, in silence, to honor those lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., just one week earlier.
Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams spoke from the heart of his own experience with homelessness.The angelic voices of the Cathedral Girls' Choir sang a piece from Handel's Messiah. The testimony of Christina Rippey, a homeless advocate formerly homeless herself, brought the congregation to their feet for a standing ovation.
As CHIP Board Chair Johnathon Willey read each name of the people who died homeless in Indy this year, a candle was lit. The sanctuary filled with flickering light, and there was a moment of silence, before the bells began to toll, "for the number of homeless and formerly homeless persons who have died this year, and one more for those known only to God."
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On any given night in Indianapolis, more than 1,600 individuals experience homelessness, according to CHIP's 2012 report "Faces of Homelessness."
Of the 1,647 individuals experiencing homelessness on the night of CHIP's 2012 homelessness survey (taken in January), 21 percent identified themselves as veterans — an increase of nearly 90 individuals from the 2011 survey.
This group also included 177 families, 315 people under the age of 18, 360 women fleeing from domestic violence and 173 people living unsheltered on the streets.
Over the course of the year, CHIP estimated that between 5,000 and 8,500 people would experience homelessness.
Another sobering note: "On any given night in Indianapolis, there are more than 3,000 children who do not have a home of their own, either because they are homeless and living in emergency shelters or temporary housing, or because they are staying in hotels or are doubled up with friends and relatives. More than half (65 percent) of these children who are homeless or who otherwise do not have a home of their own are 12 years old or younger."
CHIP identified job loss and lack of affordable, adequate housing as leading causes of homelessness. Other factors that contribute include low-paying jobs, unemployment, mental health issues, substance abuse, prisoner reintegration, medical disability and lack of insurance.
To find out more about donating to CHIP or its community partners, visit chipindy.org/DonateNow.