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Gone, but not forgotten

November 2nd 2010

For most people, 11 November means Remembrance Day, but amongst London's homeless people, it is not only those who died in World War I that are remembered. Every year, during the week of Remembrance Sunday, St Martin's-in-the-Fields holds a Service of Commemoration for homeless people who have died in the past year.

The event is organised by St Martin's, The Connection and Housing Justice, with the help and input of many others, from homeless (and formerly homeless) people to other homeless agencies.

In what has become a tradition of the service, the names of those who have passed away are read aloud. As well as acting as a central record for relatives looking for missed loved ones, it's also a way of publicly commemorating those who lost their lives, says Alastair Murray, deputy director of Housing Justice: "Many who died are much remembered by others, but won't have had much of a remembrance. This is a way of honouring them, and a celebration of their lives and struggles."

Mr Murray is currently responsible for compiling the list and receives name suggestions from homeless agencies, hostels and homeless people and by other avenues. "They're not necessarily people who died on the street," he says, "Formerly homeless people stay in touch with those that helped them, and we're sometimes sent names of volunteers or staff too." Last year, some 200 names were read aloud, and already some 30-40 names have been submitted for this year's service, which, fittingly, has as its theme the scripture 'I will never forget my people'.

The reading of the names is interspersed with poetry, readings, songs and music from a variety of individuals and groups, such as the Streetwise Opera, The Passage and the Salvation Army. And although poignant, the memorial is not "quasi-political" says The Connection pilgrimage manager Roger Shaljean, who helps organise the service alongside Mr Murray, Revd Richard Carter from the ministry team at St Martin's, and the verger. "We've had sermons," he adds, "but not used them to bash the authorities. We don't need to: people who attend often ask questions."

The first Service of Commemoration took place about 20 years ago, remembers Mr Shaljean: "The idea came from a verger of St Martin's who saw all manner of upmarket funerals going on and said the people who come to church most are the homeless, but they don't get the same ceremony".

Although initially a St Martin's event, the service soon widened its scope, with Mr Shaljean inviting homeless organisations to take part, and then Pat Logan and the rest of Housing Justice quickly coming onboard.

At first the services took place in the summer, but it didn't seem quite right, says Mr Shaljean: "We didn't want to come into conflict with the usual Remembrance service, but this was when there was availability". Considering a number of homeless people are ex-service personnel, perhaps the timing is appropriate after all.

This year's Service of Commemoration takes place at St Martin's-in-the-Fields on 11 November at 11.30am. All are welcome.

If you have know someone from the London homeless community who has died in the past year, contact Alastair Murray of Housing Justice at at least a week before 11 November. For more information and to download a poster, visit their website.


November 2010



London's hub

Why Rochester Row?

Over 1,800 convicted under Vagrancy Act

Estimates of ex-service homelessness exaggerated, claims charity

Gone, but not forgotten

A thousand cuts

Boris slammed by homelessness charity

Big Society event

Sleep outs spark debate

Homeless charities gear up for cuts

Children held for fire attack on homeless man in Jamaica

Housing associations treble surpluses

Homeless hate crime passed in Florida

Homeless tours of London

Punks party for the homeless

In from the cold

Ex-homeless Mr England

Housing benefit help

Council strategy restricts emergency beds

First new council homes in a generation

Evictions fall by a third

New changes to housing law

Churches charity urges government to meet housing targets

World Aids Day - 1 December

Could cuts see the return of hostels?

Street Shield 18: A mystery to solve


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