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Charlotte Area

A Virtual Vigil Honors Homeless Charlotteans Who Died This Year

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David Boraks
The candles were virtual ones at Thursday's vigil for homeless residents who died over the past year.

Homeless residents, advocates and family members joined an online vigil Thursday night for homeless or formerly homeless Charlotteans who died over the past year. The vigil is usually held outdoors, but went virtual this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The event was organized by the Homeless Services Network, a coalition of groups and public agencies. The network's Mike O'Sullivan said 43 people were on the list this year.

"We know that we're probably getting an undercount," O'Sullivan said. "That's a couple of people less than last year, which is good news. But it's still a big number."

Music played as the 43 names were read. They included people who died from chronic health problems, addiction-related diseases or accidents. One was hit by a car, another died in a car wreck. Some were shelter residents. Others were formerly homeless and had found permanent housing. A few died just before they were to move into permanent housing.

Rev. Glencie Rhedrick offered a prayer: "They are our sisters and brothers, our siblings. And so, therefore, it is our responsibility to work in partnership with you (God), to provide the same kind of housing that we have, to provide the same kind of access to food that we have."

Angie Ford of the Homeless Services Network read a Psalm in honor of a homeless friend-turned-volunteer who died 10 years ago. She said she wanted to honor him and "all of the brothers and sisters who we allowed to live without homes in the midst of the affluence of Charlotte."

City Council member Braxton Winston called homelessness a tragedy.

"Homelessness should not exist in Charlotte," Winston said. "We are one of the wealthiest cities in the world. We are growing beyond belief. We have all the resources in this city to ensure that no one goes unhoused."

Yet the homeless population is growing, he said.

Alvin Jacobs, a photographer and activist, called on Charlotteans to end divisions between haves and have-nots. He said we need "to realize that a city is only as strong as its weakest link, and that many of us are only a paycheck away from becoming homeless. … Why not do everything we can as a community to help people?"

The tribute came as homeless advocates and local officials plan for how to house the growing number of homeless residents during cold weather, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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