Homeless memorial service marks 270 lives lost in 2018

“Daniel Maldonado … Thaddeus Robinson Jr. … Carmela Wright … Airman First Class Brian Webb … Unknown …”

These and 265 other names were called out to honor the memory of homeless and formerly homeless people who died in Philadelphia over the past year.

Inside the Arch Street United Methodist Church, the pews were filled with hundreds of Philadelphians — some who had known homelessness and some who were currently homeless — who had gathered for the annual Homeless Memorial Day service.

There were songs, testimonials, poetry and prayer along with lighting candles and reading the 270 names.

According to Project HOME, on a single night in January 2017, more than 550,000 people experienced homelessness in the United States. More than 110,000 were younger than 18, and more than 50,000 were between the ages of 18 and 24.

Bob McCann of the organization Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, which provides meals and shelter to the homeless, spoke about the city’s struggle to rein in the issue of homelessness.

“Almost everyone in this room has had a moment where they decided to make a difference,” he said. “These individuals have quickly understood that today’s solutions are thoroughly inadequate.”

Bob McCann of the organization Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission speaks at Homeless Memorial Day service Thursday evening at Arch Street United Methodist Church.
Bob McCann of the organization Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission speaks at Homeless Memorial Day service Thursday evening at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

McCann shared the story of Carl Cornelius, a homeless man who arrived at the rescue mission’s door in a taxi paid for by a hospital in the middle of the night on Nov. 26. A bed was secured for Cornelius, but he was found unresponsive the following morning.

McCann said it is a regular occurrence that men are sent to his shelter from nearby hospitals, sometimes wearing only hospital gowns. “This story is unusual only in that Mr. Cornelius never woke up,” he added.

“Today is not a day to rail about the system,” said McCann. “Today is a day to soberly reflect on the real life, the real human consequences of a broken system.”

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