Remembering Jacksonville's Homeless Who Died In 2016

Dec 21, 2016

A homeless woman sits surrounded by her belongings outside the Salvation Army Community Center in downtown Jacksonville while a memorial service goes on inside for homeless men and women who died last year.
Credit Cyd Hoskinson / WJCT

A memorial service was held in Jacksonville on Wednesday to remember two dozen homeless men and women who died in 2016.

Doug Orange, 51, works as a certified recovery peer specialist at the Sulzbacher Center, which provides shelter and services to Jacksonville’s homeless.  Orange was homeless for five years in his 20s. He said remembering those who died is important.

“One day they’re here and one day they pass away but we as society really don’t notice because we don’t come in contact with them,” Orange said. “So I think it’s a great day to be able to honor those that may have not even been recognized.”

The first homeless memorial service in Jacksonville was held some 26 years ago.  Dawn Gilman, CEO of Changing Homelessness, said back then, most of the people living on the street were unmarried, middle-aged men.  That’s not the case today.

“When we look at who is becoming homeless,” Gilman said, “we’re seeing a real big split, meaning the people we are most concerned about are young people — young families especially — and those who are 60-plus.”

More than a hundred U.S. cities hold memorial services for the homeless each December on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Homeless advocates say it symbolizes the return of light and warmth and hope.

Reporter Cyd Hoskinson can be reached at choskinson@wjct.org or on Twitter at @cydwjctnews