CHIP — “‘Opportunity to reflect’: Service honors 58 homeless who died in Marion County in 2019”

Holly V. Hayes, Indianapolis Star, December 20, 2019

The bell at Roberts Park United Methodist Church tolled 59 times Friday —  each of the known deaths of those experiencing homelessness in Marion County, and once more for those unknown. 

The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention held its annual memorial service at the church, remembering the lives of the 58 known individuals experiencing homelessness who died in Marion County this year. 

Mourners inside the church stood in silence as each person was remembered, the syllables of their names reverberating through the sanctuary as a candle was lit in their honor.

A photo of Billy Joe Hunter and others who died while experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis this year appears on the screen during the annual Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention memorial service at Roberts Park United Methodist Church, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019

The service is part of a national effort to memorialize the known homeless persons who have passed each year. It’s held on or shortly before the winter solstice — the longest night of the year.

“I think it’s a real opportunity to reflect as a community on the stark realities and challenges people experiencing homelessness are facing,” Chelsea Haring-Cozzi, the coalition’s executive director, told IndyStar. “And for many, that becomes a real matter of life and death.”

Master of Ceremonies, and Executive Director of CHIP, Chelsea Haring-Cozzi welcomes attendees 

‘Our common humanity’

Friday’s service was also a stark reminder of the dangers and hardships faced by some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Joan Harvey, who worked with the Professional Blended Street Outreach Team, told those gathered at Roberts Park of Dennis Dugan and Julie Morey, a couple she first met on Oct. 31, 2018. 

She became better acquainted with Morey in the months after Dugan’s death in January after he was hit by multiple vehicles. Morey was a regular at Peppy Grill in Fountain Square, and despite being without a permanent home, had found a community of friends and chosen family there.

“They called her Mama Jules, because she took care of others,” Harvey said, “even when she didn’t take good care of herself.” 

She began taking the necessary steps to find an apartment and a job. She got an ID. Outreach providers helped her set up a cellphone. 

But before she could secure housing, things took a turn — one of her friends was mugged and seriously injured. Morey’s purse and phone were stolen. She was physically attacked. As Harvey and others asked her to move to transitional housing or seek other shelter, Morey returned to her community in Fountain Square.

The 2019 Diamond Service Award recipient, Brandi Moran, right, performs her duty as candle lighter for the reading of names

“But her spirit was shattered in a thousand pieces,” Harvey said. 

On Nov. 3, Morey was found stabbed and strangled in the St. Patrick Catholic Church’s Religious Education Center. IndyStar has reached out to police for any updates in the case.

Harvey left the crowd with a thought from Clarence, the angel in Frank Capra’s Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

“‘Strange, isn’t it?'” Harvey quoted. “‘Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?'”

Friday’s memorial service should serve as a reminder to the community, Haring-Cozzi said, that these people mattered. They had families. They were loved. And their lives are worth remembering.

“Look past someone’s crisis or circumstance to see our common humanity,” she said. “These are people, and I think we have to better understand the human experience and the long roads that have led people to this place where they’re without a home.” 

Homelessness, she said, isn’t the result of just a few personal missteps. Oftentimes, individuals experiencing homelessness have endured years of trauma. Spent years living in poverty. They’ve experienced medical crises and fallen behind on their rent. Lost their jobs, their livelihood, their stability. 

It’s a complex issue, and addressing it effectively will require complex solutions and partnerships with service providers and individuals across multiple sectors.

“We have to partner, we have to collaborate,” Haring-Cozzi said, “and we have to understand that we all play a role in solving this.” 

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