Thursday, December 10, 2009

Homeless Persons' Memorial Service

By Emily Ball, AmeriCorps*VISTA at the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative.

I went to the see The Blind Side last night. And say what you will about cheesy movies and Hollywood emotionalism: I cried through the whole thing.
It’s based on the real-life story of Michael Oher, who made his way from the projects to a wealthy private high school, where a family whose kids were students there took him home one night after driving by him walking in the cold and discovered he didn’t have a place to stay. The rest of the story is predictable, in a Hollywood, fairytale way: he became part of their family, ended up going to Ole Miss on a football scholarship, got drafted to the NFL.
Except that it’s not a fairytale. It’s a reality, because one family was brave enough, compassionate enough, generous enough, convicted enough to get involved in someone else’s life. To notice him. To recognize that they had enough to share. It’s a reality because one family had enough humanity to see the humanity in someone else who was suffering, and to act on it.
Will we do the same? In Asheville tonight there are about 550 people living like Michael Oher was: human beings, fellow men and women, who lack resources but don’t lack value. Will we act on it?
On December 19th, we have the opportunity to come together as a community around some of our most vulnerable neighbors. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, in partnership with the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative, is holding Asheville’s 3rd annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service, to commemorate the lives of the 19 community members who died while homeless in Asheville this year. It’s a public recognition of their humanity. A chance to grieve. An opportunity to show support of our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. A time to reflect on homelessness in our city and on what we’re each doing individually to help end it.
Deaths in the homeless community are usually the result of preventable causes: hate crime violence; overexposure to harsh weather; inadequate access to medical treatment for chronic or acute conditions. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council reports that people experiencing homelessness are 3 to 4 times more likely to die than people with housing. And that while the average age of death in the general U.S. population is 78 years old, that average for people without housing is closer to 50.
This December, in a month filled with family gatherings, gift-giving, buzzwords like peace and joy, let’s take an hour to remember people in our community who died alone this year. People just like us, who were born to families who cared about them, who laughed and cried and loved and had friends and jobs and community…but who didn’t have housing at the end of their lives. Let’s honor their memories at the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service and pay tribute to their lives by working to end homelessness in Asheville. Let’s recognize the humanity we share with them, and let’s act on it.

Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service
December 19th at 2 p.m.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville
(Potluck to follow!)

For more information, contact Emily Ball at the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative: 259.5733 or