Homeless Memorial Service 2017

The pews at Church on the Hill were filled with friends, advocates, and members of the homeless community on Thursday to pay tribute to over 100 people who died this past year. The interfaith service marked the 28th anniversary of the National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day, though the Boston community has seen a similar event since the 1980s.

The service was full of music and prayers from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities. Members of the church also read the names of 43 individuals – mostly first names and last initials – and paid respect to 62 more unnamed individuals, lighting candles for each one. (Note: the unnamed are a mix of John/Jane Does, and some weren’t named because service providers chose not to provide that information, possibly for medical reasons.)

Michael Bancewicz, administrator at Church on the Hill said some of those who passed were homeless at the time of death, others formerly homeless and connected to the community in some way.

Choirs from the Church on the Hill and the MANNA singers from the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul’s homeless ministry performed Amazing Grace near the end of the service.


“You kinda get deflated just reading names every years – but we have lift each other up to go fight next year,” said Bancewicz, speaking to Spare Change News about the need for interfaith efforts to help homelessness. “Throughout the year we share resources and reach out to each other.”

Over the past year, Massachusetts has seen a 16 percent decrease in homelessness over the past year, and Boston saw a 5 percent drop. However, this is still higher than numbers from a decade ago.

Two of the MANNA singers, Jan Roy and James Van Looy, a married retired couple, had also attended the service since the 1980s, and commented on this increase. Rowe, who used to work for the state as a mental health care worker, said “It wasn’t this bad in the 90s.” She also noted the rising economic inequality in cities like Boston, which was named the least equal city in the nation by the Brookings Institute.

Van Looy, formerly a Pine Street Inn employee, agreed, adding “It’s all about inequality.” Van Looy did note one positive difference is that homelessness now receives more attention at the policy level, referencing the efforts of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to end homelessness.

Street Sense, Washington, D.C.’s street paper, is collecting more national coverage of the national day of service. You can find their Twitter Moment compiling the coverage here.

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