Annual Candlelight Vigil to Remember Homeless Deaths

Dec 17, 2013

As a part of National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, a Pittsburgh nonprofit is hosting a candlelight vigil to remember those who have died homeless in 2013.

Operation Safety Net, a program by Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, will host the vigil under the bridge that connects Grant Street to Fort Pitt Boulevard in downtown on Saturday, Dec. 21, the longest night of the year.

More than 150 other cities across the nation will also hold memorials to commemorate the day. The name of every person who has died homeless in Pittsburgh since 1991 is recorded in remembrance on a memorial wall under the overpass. This year 10 names will be added to the list of more than 120.

“I think its an opportunity to acknowledge that the people that passed away were real human beings, that they mattered, and that we’re all in this together and its also an opportunity to celebrate what was good and strong about those people that passed away this year,” said Dr. Jim Withers, medical director and founder of Operation Safety Net. 

Wither’s began Operation Safety Net in 1992 with the unique concept of offering health evaluations and services to the homeless he found living on the streets of Pittsburgh.

“We do what we now call street medicine. It’s become a new global grassroots concept, and basically it’s about building relationships and assessing the extent to which people are in medical need,” Withers said, “trying to pick up the pieces where they were dropped.”

Beyond medical services, Operation Safety Net also helps the homeless utilize social services to find housing and obtain insurance to help treat chronic illnesses. According to Withers, Operation Safety Net has helped 900 homeless people find housing over the last nine years.

The vigil will begin at 7 p.m. and will feature a reading of the names as well as selections by the Mr. Ararat Baptist Church Men’s Choir. Donations of new hats, gloves and socks will be accepted at the vigil to be distributed by Operation Safety Net.