Thank you for participating in the Homeless Memorial March and Service. All are welcome!
The following event details will help you get the most from the experience.
The march route: The Homeless Memorial March is about three miles long. The march will follow 5th Street South westward to Nicollet Avenue and proceed south to 28th Street.
The Minneapolis Police Department provides escort cars to stop traffic as the marchers cross the streets. However, we ask marchers to pay attention to where they are walking during the march. There will be a van following the march to pick up anyone who needs assistance completing the route. Hot chocolate will be available at the start of the march and half-way along the route.
What to wear: Please wear appropriate footwear and clothing, keeping in mind the weather conditions (e.g., snow, ice and wind) in mind.
Getting there: Marchers gather at the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza in downtown Minneapolis starting at 4:30 p.m. The Hennepin County Government Center Plaza is located on the block between 5th and 6th streets and 3rd and 4th avenues, adjacent to the light rail.
To help participants get to and from the evening events, we provide transportation to the march from the K-Mart parking lot (10 W. Lake St. Minneapolis) to the Government Center Plaza. Park at the east end of the lot and get on one of the school buses. The last bus leaves at 4:20 p.m.
Event Speaker: Patina Park, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center
Signs to honor those who have died: At the Government Center Plaza, marchers will see signs displaying the names of those who have died during the last year. You are encouraged to take a sign to carry during the march.
Please refrain from bringing signs with political, religious, or other messages. We support and encourage religious and political dialogue. However, this event is about honoring those who have died.
Cards: Cards that explain the purpose of the march will be available. If someone asks what is happening, you may hand them one of the cards.
At 5:00 p.m. a speaker will make a few comments. Following this message, the marchers will leave the Government Center Plaza heading west along 5th Street, then south along Nicollet Avenue. Marchers will follow the route silently through downtown and south to Simpson United Methodist Church.
Video credit: First Covenant Church, Minneapolis
The memorial service will start at 6:30 p.m. A program will be handed out at the church entrance with a list of everyone who is being memorialized. Signs carried during the march may be placed against the altar rail at the front of the church sanctuary. Attendees of the memorial service can mingle and find seats while the march ends.
Following the opening words, there will be an invitation for individuals to share memories of someone who has passed away this year. Each speaker is asked to keep comments under three minutes and refrain from religious or political statements. Memories may also be shared in writing; letters and messages will be posted in a display during the community meal after the service.
Getting there: Participants who cannot come to the march are welcome to attend the memorial service only. Parking for guests attending only the service may be found at Kmart (10 W. Lake Street, Minneapolis).
Following the memorial service all are invited to stay for a community meal. This is a time for participants to gather, connect, and reflect on what they have just experienced. A festive holiday meal is provided by Minnetonka United Methodist Church.
History of the Homeless Memorial March and Service
Eric was a frequent guest in the early days of the Simpson Men’s Shelter. He was a quiet, somewhat shy Vietnam war veteran and although he pretty much kept to himself, everyone knew and loved him. In the summer of 1984, days had passed since shelter staff and volunteers had seen him. This happened from time to time. No one thought too much of it. A few days later they got the news that Eric’s body had been found by the railroad tracks nearby. He had been beaten to death.
Simpson staff and volunteers had witnessed many people experiencing homelessness who die without anyone honoring their life. Simpson United Methodist’s pastor and shelter staff, volunteers, and Eric’s family members gathered shortly after he was found to honor his life, as well as the lives of a few other people they knew who had died that year. It was an important moment for all, including his family. They were happy to see that he had support and a community in his life. From that point forward, a nearby house that was a transitional home to three men at the time was affectionately referred to by Simpson staff and volunteers as “Eric’s House.”
The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless (MCH) heard that Simpson had held the service and proposed that it become a larger event, including names of as many people as they could gather. In December of 1984, the first official Minnesota homeless memorial was held, launching the collaboration between Simpson and MCH that exists to this day. Unidentified people began to be included throughout the years, as it was presumed that these people were, quite likely, homeless.
In the early years, the memorial was always held on December 21 (the winter solstice, the beginning of winter, and the longest night of the year) to coincide with the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day designated by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). The event eventually transitioned to be held on the third Thursday in December, as this proved to be the most well-attended night.
The lighting of an individual candle with the reading of each person’s name was a unique aspect of the Minnesota event and has since been replicated by other memorials. In the early years when funding was especially tight, there were plans to re-use candles from one year to the next, but Carla Gainey, Simpson Executive Director from 1987-1997, was adamant that new candles be purchased every year. “Everyone should have their own candle.” This practice continues to this day.
In the mid 1990s, the march was added to the schedule for the evening. The Shelter Providers Action Association (formed to help combat funding cuts at a time when homelessness was increasing) began organizing the march portion of the memorial to help raise awareness of the issue of homelessness. It was initially a protest but gently grew into a silent vigil.
Each year, marchers carry individual signs with the name, age, and hometown of every person being honored. One of the first years of the march, a Duluth woman travelled to the service. Her mother was homeless and had been murdered. To see her name on a sign was a moving experience for her. This started a tradition of allowing people to take the signs that displayed the name of a person they knew who had died.
In recent years, the reading of the names has been divided into currently and formerly homeless as more and more people are moving into housing. Please read the article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, that further tells the story of homelessness. Click here to read full article