Part of my job includes spending 5 hours a week with another organization who has close ties to Mary’s Place. WHEEL (Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League) is an empowerment and action group that works solely on homeless women’s issues. My director connected me with this organization because she knew that I was interested in advocacy work as well, and this is a great organization to link with for that purpose. One of the projects that WHEEL and Church of Mary Magdalene work together on is called Women in Black. Every time a homeless person – man or woman – dies in the Seattle area outside, alone, or due to violence, the Women in Black group stands together in a silent vigil for one hour outside of City Hall. Papers are handed out with the names of the deceased listed, as well as their cause of death. It is an effort to make the public aware of these often preventable deaths, and to stand in front of the city saying that these people may have been forgotten and abandoned in life, but in death they will be remembered. In 2008 over 50 homeless people died outside or by violence.
Yesterday was the first vigil I have attended, and it was the 2nd vigil so far this year. We were standing for 6 men. That brings the total up to ten people whose deaths Women in Black have stood for this year so far. Women in Black had a first yesterday, as the mother of one of the deceased joined us in our vigil. It was an emotional moment for her as well as the others who stood alongside her. The mood was somber, as we all stood in remembrance of these six men.
Then last night, I was watching an episode of West Wing (yes, Stephanie finally won me over, and I’ve started watching from Season 1 – courtesy Netflix) and it was the Christmas episode from Season 1. In this episode Toby learns of the death of a homeless man who died outside in the cold, alone. As Toby began to research this man, he learned that he was a war vet, and so Toby works diligently in finding this man’s family in order to inform them of his passing. Once the brother was found, Toby arranged for a funeral with honors. Toby was so moved by this man’s death. Others around him kept asking, “Did you know him?” When Toby said no, they all responded basically the same way, “Then why do you care?” But Toby knew what these vigil standers of Women in Black know: It matters not if we knew them, what matters is that they are someones son, someones sister, someones friend, and they deserve the dignity in death that they may not have received in life. At the end of the episode, when the president confronts Toby with the manner in which the funeral was arranged, the president says, “We can’t do that, otherwise every homeless war vet will come out of the woodworks, expecting the same royal treatment.” Toby replies, “I hope they do sir.” And it is moment where you realize that every person, war vet or not, deserves the chance at our one true right – the right to life. By the time the episode was finished, I was so emotional I couldn’t do anything but just sit a few moments in silence.
Today we honor these and others whose names we may not know:
- Joseph Hradec, 37, who was shot to death by police officers in a motel on January 14th.
- Gerald Scott, 67, who was found dead on January 17th and whose death is still undetermined.
- Michael Robinson, 49, who was found dead on Janaury 25th, cause still pending.
- Brian Reitan, 37, found dead of natural causes on Janaury 30th.
- Ronald Barbour, 54, found dead on February 2nd of undetermined causes.
- Dan Olson, 48, found dead on February 20th, cause of death still pending.