CHIP — “Church bell tolls for Marion County’s 71 known homeless individuals who died this year”

Holly V. Hayes, The Indianapolis Star, December 21, 2018

On the morning of the year’s shortest day — and its longest night — an Indianapolis church’s bell tolled 72 times, once for each of the known Marion County homeless who have died this year, and once more for all whose deaths went unrecognized.

The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention held the annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service at Roberts Park United Methodist Church on Friday, commemorating lives lost in 2018 and keeping attention on people who still lack a place to call home.

“It’s a time for us to, I think, really remember those that don’t have somewhere to call home that night, that are going to be spending a very long night here in Indianapolis without somewhere to go,” Chelsea Haring-Cozzi, the coalition’s executive director, told IndyStar.

This year’s point-in-time count — a one-night count of the city’s homeless population, sheltered and unsheltered — reached nearly 1,700 in Indianapolis, though that number can fluctuate throughout the year. That included 128 families and more than 250 children, according to the organization.

At one time, that included 57-year-old Michael Schwing, who shared his story with those in attendance at Friday’s memorial.

Schwing became homeless in early 2004 and spent years going in and out of shelters and temporary housing. He now lives in a placement through Partners In Housing, which provides supportive housing for Indianapolis’ low-income and homeless.

Although he’s no longer homeless, Schwing said he remembers many of the faces — friendly and not so friendly — he encountered along the way. Perhaps his most bothersome memory is “the look,” when people walking down the street would spot him, recognize him as homeless and move away from him or even cross the street to avoid him.

“Homeless people are people, too,” he said, and all the people honored Friday had a family and friends who loved them, despite the challenges life had thrown at them.

Since 1996, more than 800 people experiencing homelessness have died in Marion County, according to the homelessness prevention group.

Schwing, who now runs an online memorial to honor some of those individuals, told IndyStar memorials like Friday’s may be the only public recognition of their deaths.

“It’s sad to me that people die without obituaries,” he said. “Social Security is not notified of their death. If it wasn’t for a thing like this, we wouldn’t even know these people have died.”

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