Death Be Not Proud
Alternative to Shamefully Ignoring Invisible, Homeless Kids and Adults
The longest night of the year has long been my favorite “holiday.” It has also been the occasion to commemorate those who lived and died “on the streets.”* National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, December 21, provides the occasion to remember those who died without a place to call home.
When I ran a shelter, we held this somber recognition and chanted, “remember the dead and fight for the living.” Coming right before Christmas, a hectic holiday in our crowded shelter, I welcomed a dose of reality on Winter Solstice, as did many of the adults and kids who joined in this voluntary quasi-religious ceremony.
I was heartened with a sobering dose of journalistic honesty in the AZ Central with their comprehensive story on the death of more than 500 adults and children on the streets of Phoenix, AZ. I can’t remember seeing similar coverage in all my years of media-monitoring. They didn’t glorify, nor did they bypass, myriad issues that cause and keep people trapped in this dreadful existence.
“The unexpected and deadly COVID-19 virus — which ravaged the world this year and killed more than 7,000 Arizonans — was known to be responsible for only four of those deaths.
The rest were caused by the same concerns that killed hundreds of homeless people last year and, in all likelihood, will kill hundreds more next year.
Drug overdoses. Heatstroke. Malnutrition. Treatable illnesses. Vehicle collisions.”
Homeless deaths by age (January-August 2020)
Source: Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office
As expected, the article didn’t focus on families or youth. The statistics of deaths reported do indicate a handful of children and youth, but likely they fit within HUD’s limited definition of homelessness, one that disregards 80% of families in homeless situations, not “homelessness enough” by HUD’s standards.
To counter media’s mis-information about homelessness, and to raise awareness (and hopefully inspire outrage to inspire action), I wrote a book while I was sidelined by the coronavirus lockdown this spring and summer.
My memoir-social narrative, Dismazed and Driven — My Look at Family Homelessness in America, was published last month by Charles Bruce Foundation. It has made a satisfying big splash despite the lack of a powerful PR firm.
Media coverage and public attention so far includes:
- Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh hosted a lively webinar on 12/13/20.
- The Reporters published a sizable spread, including stories and photos from my book.
Feedback from the book has heartened me. People admitting they had no idea of the level of suffering of families. Or the scope of homelessness. Motivation to do something seems to be a byproduct of grueling reading.
One of my favorite authors about homelessness (and a bunch of other topics) is Pat LaMarche. We’re friends, and have traveled together several times as the Babes of Wrath. She’s recently published her latest adult book on homelessness, Still Left Out in America, as well as her children’s chapter books, the first two books in the four book Priscilla series.
She called me the other day and said we needed to do something for the Winter Solstice. Feeling a tad powerless in this dysfunctional era of rampant corruption and unprecedented death, I was all ears.
Pat suggested the infamous Babes of Wrath hold a virtual event — and open and honest discussion of homelessness — Monday night, December 21, 7:00 pm CST. (You need to register so you can get the Zoom code.)
OK. I’m in. Are you? We can promise a stimulating (as in action-inspiring) virtual gathering. Or you can spend the longest night of the year in a hopeless funk.