Dayton vigil memorializes homeless who died

Backpacks filled with item for Dayton's homeless population line the stage at Courthouse Square Tuesday. The memorial for the homeless in Montgomery County was held Tuesday Dec. 21, 2021. JIM Noelker/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

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Backpacks filled with item for Dayton's homeless population line the stage at Courthouse Square Tuesday. The memorial for the homeless in Montgomery County was held Tuesday Dec. 21, 2021. JIM Noelker/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

This year 49 people who experienced homelessness died, their lives memorialized this week by a coalition of Montgomery County organizations.

Organizers of the annual memorial Tuesday at Courthouse Square read the first name and last initial of the 49 people who died, ringing a bell for each person and standing in front of a line of backpacks representing each person lost.

This includes people were living in permanent supportive housing but experienced homelessness less than a year ago, which organizers said emphasizes the toll homelessness takes.

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The people who died ranged in age from 29 to 73.

“While we work on systems and legislation and policy, today we just recognize humanity,” said Rev. Kima Cunningham, with Richards Chapel United Methodist Church and Christiansburg United Methodist Church, who led a reflection at the memorial.

There were 478 homeless people in Montgomery County, including 417 households, counted in an annual one-night survey in January 2021. The survey was modified because of COVID, which is why officials estimate it is lower than in past year.

For 2020, 3,444 homeless households and 4,105 homeless people were counted spending at least one night in a shelter in Montgomery County. That’s compared to an estimated 3,791 households in 2019, according to county data.

In 2019, African Americans made up 45% of Montgomery County’s homeless population but only 21% of the county’s general population.

Some of those who gathered for the memorial included representatives with area shelters: Daybreak, Gettysburg Gateway for Men, St. Vincent Gateway for Women and Families, and the YWCA Domestic Violence shelter.

Angel Bernard with St. Vincent de Paul and Heather Wilson with Miami Valley Housing Opportunities were the ones who read the names of those who died while Jull Bucaro, of the Law Office of the Public Defender, rang the bell.

People who attended also donated winter clothes for those experiencing homelessness. Residents were encouraged to go to tinyurl.com/mchomelesssolutions to find more ways to help.

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Cunningham urged those gathered downtown for the memorial to not see the homeless as a problem, but to see their homelessness as a result of a problem that can be fixed.

“And as we honor every individual that has died due to exposure, let us expose a system that perpetuates this problem,” she said. “Homeless people are not the problem. They are the result of a bigger problem. So we’ve got work to do.”

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