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Activists plan overnight memorial vigil for D.C. homeless who died in 2018

The vigil will take place downtown from Dec. 20 to 21

Kriangkrai Namtongbai/Shutterstock

So far this year, at least 54 people have died in the District “without the dignity of a home,” according to The Way Home, an advocacy group focused on ending chronic homelessness.

Activists will remember those people at an overnight memorial vigil from 5 p.m. on Dec. 20 to 12 p.m. on Dec. 21, in their sixth annual such event. The organizers will gather downtown, at Luther Place Memorial Church, before walking by candlelight to Freedom Plaza, which is situated directly across from the Wilson Building—the seat of the District government. The participants plan to remain at the plaza until Friday morning, and then canvass city officials.

The People for Fairness Coalition, a nonprofit, is spearheading the event, with support from The Way Home and Miriam’s Kitchen. Dozens have attended the memorial in previous years.

In the District’s fiscal year 2020 budget, which officials will finalize next spring, the activists are asking for $35.5 million in investments in service-enriched affordable housing programs, including permanent supportive housing. The Way Home says this amount of funding would cover 1,140 individuals and 177 families, although the campaign notes that it may add to its demands in the coming months based on community feedback. Fiscal year 2020 begins on Oct. 1, 2019. Every year, the mayor proposes a budget and the D.C. Council makes changes.

Last year, The Way Home explains, 45 people died while experiencing homelessness in D.C., “many from treatable and preventable diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.” In 2016, the count was more than 50. The campaign estimates that there are currently more than 4,100 individuals living without a home in the District. Of them, seven in 10 are people of color. Individuals considered “chronically” homeless, the most vulnerable, are those who have lacked housing for more than a year and have a disability or a serious health condition.

In addition to these single, unhoused people, The Way Home estimates that there are nearly 2,300 families in D.C.’s shelter system, which includes hotels used as overflow space, and in rapid rehousing, a program that provides rental subsidies for private units for around a year. The campaign notes that its demand of $35.5 million in investments is less than one half of one percent of D.C.’s overall budget, which is roughly $14.5 billion in the current fiscal year.

In related news, the Council last week voted to direct new revenue from online retail sales taxes toward commercial property tax breaks over affordable housing and other priorities.

The Way Home’s recommendations for D.C.’s fiscal year 2020
The Way Home

This post has been updated with a more recent estimate by advocates of the 2018 death toll.