Empty chairs symbolize homeless deaths in memorial

by Sharon Armstrong

The weekly community meal at Grace Community Church had added meaning on Dec. 13 when it followed a memorial service for those homeless men and women who have died in Greensboro during 2006. Chairs bearing the names of the deceased remained empty throughout the meal. The names of the dead were read aloud to tables of hungry homeless people and other members of the community before a hot meal of fried chicken and potatoes was served.

The church hall was packed.

Michele Forrest, who is a homeless advocate and outreach worker for Grace Church, has been involved with helping the homeless for the last seven years. In her opinion the numbers of people without shelter in the Triad is on the rise.

“Every week the numbers keep going up,” she said “It’s hard to get a solid estimate but a few years back there was approximately 100 homeless people in the downtown area of Greensboro, just Greensboro, and now it’s around 150, 160. In the past month or so there has been a surge. We just have more and more people on the street.”

The memorial at Grace Community Church is a precursor to a series of similar nationwide services which are set to take place on Dec. 21, coinciding with the shortest day of the year. These events are co-sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. Their goal is to bring attention to the rising numbers of homelessness-linked deaths in America.

“There are some people in Greensboro who were homeless when I first started seven years ago, who are still homeless.” Forrest said. “We get to know them and we notice when faces disappear. A lot of these people don’t have the support system that we sometimes take for granted. They don’t have families and, for some, this is the only memorial they will ever have.”

– Sharon Armstrong