Members of Sydney’s street community gathered in Elizabeth Bay last week for a moving memorial service for people experiencing homelessness who died over the past year.
Bishop Terry Brady led the service which was held in Peace Park near St Canice’s Catholic Church which also runs a drop-in centre for the marginalised in Sydney’s inner east. Sadly, for many homeless who have died during the pandemic, the service would be their only commemoration.
“Most people dying on the streets are doing so due to health-related problems that have escalated because they have not had shelter.” -Patricia Thomas
Organiser Dominic Sullivan said the 21 June winter solstice was chosen for the event as it was the longest night of the year in honour of the long nights faced by those trying to find some comfort on the streets, in parks or shelters.
“The hope is also to bring our community’s attention to the need to end street sleeping, as well as the plight experienced by homeless people, especially during the cold winter months, when high numbers of deaths occur,” Mr Sullivan said.
Patricia Thomas of Grief Care at Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria read the list of names of those known within the street community who had passed away, many unnnamed and unmourned.
She said it was the first time in Australia such a memorial had been held acknowledging those who had died on the streets.
“It’s such an important memorial as it’s about people who have not just lived on the streets, but also died on the streets,” she said. “It’s aimed at acknowledging not only the level of homelessness but also the mortality of people who are homeless.
“On average, people without a home die 30 years earlier than other people who have a home, while the average life expectancy of people experiencing homelessness is between 35 and 50 years of age compared with 78 years and rising for those who are housed,” she said.
“Most people dying on the streets are doing so due to health-related problems that have escalated because they have not had shelter. We’ve got an epidemic of people not only living on the streets but dying on the streets.
Sue Buckingham, facilitator of David’s Place, a space for prayer and fellowship, said it was a welcome event for the city’s homeless and itinerant people. “It was very consoling and peaceful,” she told The Catholic Weekly.
Next month, the remains of those remembered will be interred in a dedicated area along the Charles O’Neill Walk at Rookwood Cemetery during the annual Bringing them Home service.