Homeless Memorial Service remembers, grieves, and honours

Homeless Memorial Service remembers, grieves, and honours

More than 200 people gathered on June 7 to remember 156 Edmontonians who died due to homelessness in 2022.

"The stark reality is the numbers have been increasing since our first memorial in 2006," said Susan Watson, chair of the Homeless Memorial Committee.

When the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) started holding this annual ceremony in 2006, it commemorated 32 people whose lives had been shortened by homelessness. The numbers have trended upwards since then, reaching a record high of 222 last year.

"Each of these men and women had a story," Watson said. "They did not have a place where they could go to be warm and comfortable, to go to at the end of the day and not be afraid...."

David Johnson, who has experienced homelessness himself, encouraged Edmontonians to be empathetic. "There's a common view that homeless people are shiftless, lazy, undeserving," he said. "This is not the case. Everyone is an individual, they all have their own stories... we have to meet people where they are."

This year's memorial included an Honour Song performed by an Indigenous drumming circle, as well as a performance by Stephanie Burlie.

"We are here as lights, as beacons, as voices for the voiceless," said Burlie, before singing This Little Light of Mine.

By Homeward Trust's count, more than 3,000 people in Edmonton were without housing in May.

Attendees at the Homeless Memorial Service on June 7, 2023, took turns laying flowers on the monument, which has stood at 103A Avenue and 99 Street since 2011. (Ashley Lavallee-Koenig)