Why we honor those who are too often forgotten

On December 21, 2022, Opportunity Council and the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness extend an invitation to their annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. 

The event is put on each year to remind our community that people experiencing homelessness are a part of the community, and to recognize their humanity and dignity, said Marisa Schoeppach, manager of Opportunity Council’s Homeless Outreach Team.  

Speaking community members’ names during this reflection on their lives honors those who do not survive, Schoeppach said.  

“We want to make sure everyone is recognized. We want to emphasize their individual humanity and existence among the community,” she said. “It helps us all remember why we do [outreach] work and fight for positive change.” 

Schoeppach mentioned that lack of shelter, resources, and sleep, as well as extreme exposure to the elements over time and behavioral health challenges, contribute to the deaths of homeless community members. She said increasing affordable housing and healthcare resources, including eligibility and case management support, are ways to help. 

Facing health issues while homeless creates obstacles like a diabetic being unable to refrigerate their insulin and maintain healthy nutrition, or a person being unable to keep clothing or linens clean after discharge from the hospital, leading to infection. Homelessness can also mean that people are refused medical procedures because they don’t have the safety and support required to recover, or that they are unable to access physical and behavioral health providers. 

Attendees of the memorial can expect an atmosphere of love and remembrance, Schoeppach said. There will be live music, a prayer, and a proclamation by the Mayor’s Office. People are offered candles to light, and the community comes together in respect for those who have died. 

The event will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 P.M. on the steps of City Hall