Funeral services and memorials are common events after a person passes away, however, if the individual is homeless, services aren’t guaranteed. To remember all those without addresses who have passed, communities recognize Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, which is on Dec. 21, typically the longest day of the year and the beginning of winter. Better Life hosted an event on Dec. 21 to remember the homeless individuals who passed in 2022 and encourage those who are experiencing homelessness to continue working toward their goals.
Several speakers at the event shared their personal experiences with homelessness and a common theme was that homelessness does not have to be permanent.
Marques McCoy, who serves as the Individual Shelter Monitor for the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services in Newark, shared with the group that he experienced homelessness just three years ago after getting out of an abusive relationship. He was sleeping in a city park but now he lives 14 stories above where he used to sleep, drives a new car and represents the homeless population in Newark.
“Your dreams, your goals, your aspirations do not have to die if you don’t allow them to,” he said. “You are not your situation. You are not your circumstances. You are greater.”
Debra Underwood, who organized the event at Better Life, works for Project Live, Inc.’s PATH program, which stands for Projects for Assistance in Transitioning from Homelessness. She said recognizing Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, particularly during the holiday shopping season, is important.
“You don’t think about the people that you might pass on the street with your shopping bags,” she said. “They’re kind of invisible.”
Pastor Bryant Ali, also known as Pastor in the Hood, and leader of New Psalmist Worship Center in Newark, was previously homeless and a drug user.
“I knew what it was to be homeless. I knew what it was to be addicted. I knew what it was to feel like you were never going to get free. Like death was your only option,” he said.
But he realized that his life had meaning and he was able to overcome his challenges and help others. He told the crowd that no matter what, everyone has victories, even if they seem small.
“One victory was we woke up this morning,” he said. “Because we’re still here, we still have a purpose.”
Minister Valerie Seymore runs the nonprofit Beauty for Ashes, which helps adults who are victims of abuse and/or addiction, economically disadvantaged and those in danger of or facing homelessness. She is a recovering drug addict and uses her experiences to help others. She aims to encourage people and brought that message to the event.
“I just want to say don’t give up,” Seymore said. “If you’re on drugs, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got 30 years clean, 30 weeks, 30 days, 30 hours, 30 minutes or 30 seconds. Give yourself a hand.”
In addition to remarks, the service included a dance by Almeria Holt, dedicated to her homeless friend who passed away while living on the street, and a song by solo artist Apryl who has experienced abuse and homelessness.
Following the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day service, attendees enjoyed a hot lunch. Helping to prepare and serve the meal were Better Life staff members and volunteers, including Sharon McGreevey of New Jersey Reentry Corporation, a nonprofit organization that aims to remove all barriers to employment for citizens returning from jail or prison.
Better Life, 101 14th Ave., Newark, offers an Engagement Center that welcomes any individual experiencing homelessness, Essex County Wellness Respite Services for individuals in crisis who have mental health or substance abuse issues and supportive housing units for chronically homeless individuals. New Community built, owns and manages the Better Life building and contracts with Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey (CSPNJ) as the service provider. For more information, call 862-229-1400.