Hundreds Gather at Homeless Memorial Vigil

An event to remember the more than 200 homeless Philadelphians who died in in 2016 struck a tone of somber defiance.

Homeless Memorial Day - Sr. Mary Scullion

Sister Mary Scullion speaks at the Homeless Memorial Day event at Thomas Paine/MSB Plaza on Wednesday.

It was a somber evening at Thomas Paine Plaza on Wednesday night as several hundred people gathered for a vigil to remember the more than 200 homeless people in Philadelphia who died in 2016.

“We are here for one simple reason,” said Sister Mary Scullion, who runs Project HOME. “We believe that every person has dignity and should be honored in life and in death. We believe that in this wealthy nation no citizen should have to endure the dehumanization of homelessness. Tonight, we commit to ending this national scandal.”

Scullion spoke also about the impending presidency of Donald Trump, and openly wondered whether the new administration and Republicans in Congress would make cuts to federal funding that helps the homeless. “With a new administration coming to Washington,” Scullion said, “we may face the prospects of serious cuts to the social safety net — which already is frayed.” She cited housing supports and health care as two areas where federal subsidies have made a huge difference.

City Council members Mark Squilla, Helen Gym, Derek Green, and Jannie Blackwell spoke at the event, as well as Mayor Jim Kenney. “I want to say something regarding the national climate,” Kenney said. “We hear often that we are all responsible for ourselves and ourselves only. That is so patently untrue and false. We are put here by our God — however you pray — to be there for others.

“Service to others is where we find real happiness. We are responsible for each other. We are responsible for our brothers and sisters who are on the street. We are responsible for our brothers’ and sisters’ education, in their rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction. Unless we all stick together, we’re going to be lost. But the city will not be lost. We will stick together — we will get there together.”

The event concluded with a reading of the names of more than 200 homeless people who died this year. At around the same time, an event began across the street at City Hall’s Christmas Village: a hot-dog-eating contest.