Thursday, December 18, 2014
Under a busy highway overpass, a wall of 138 bronze plaques is about to grow by six.
This Sunday evening, at Fort Pitt Boulevard and Grant Street, social service workers, members of the general public and homeless people will gather Downtown to mourn the six who died homeless on the county's streets this year.
The plaques, which bear the phrase "we remember", memorialize each homeless person who has died countywide since 1989.
The candlelight memorial service is organized by Operation Safety Net, an organization that helps provide medical care to the homeless through the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System.
"We’ve been getting a better and better showing every year," says Stephanie Chiappini, a program manager at Operation Safety Net who organizes the service. "It always amazes me the people who show up — the people from the community who come just to pay homage."
The vigil has been an annual tradition since 1998 and coincides with National Homeless Persons Memorial Day on December 21, the longest night of the year. More than 150 other cities are expected to participate.
In the back of her mind, Chiappini is hoping for bad weather.
Being out in the elements without shelter, "You start to realize that’s every day, every moment for a lot of people. Just having a roof over your head is a major advantage in terms of staying healthy."
The memorial service, which will run from 7-7:30 p.m., will include brief remarks, a reading of the names, a musical selection and a prayer.
Members of the public are invited to attend and are encouraged to donate new men's and women's gloves, boots and thermal underwear, which will go to an emergency severe weather shelter. Donations to support the shelter and Operation Safety Net can be made here.