The 2009 Homeless Memorial March and Service is scheduled for Thursday, December 17. (Please note: this is the correct date.) The event honors those members of our community who died in 2009 while experiencing homelessness.
Last year’s service honored a record 131 homeless and formerly homeless people, as well as homeless advocates, who died in Minnesota in 2008. On any night in Minnesota, there are at least 1,000 people out on the street. The average life expectancy in America is 77 years. The life expectancy of a person who is homeless is 47 years.
A large puppet has led the memorial march for many years. It is a striking, solemn, sad image as it proceeds through the downtown.
Allysen Hoberg of St. Stephen’ s shelter gives a brief history of the puppet:
Several years ago, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army Harbor Light, Simpson Housing Services, Our Saviors Shelter, St. Stephen’s Shelter, numerous people from Shelter Providers Action Association, representatives from Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre and other art programs held a conference called “Out of the Shadows” which was specifically designed for people experiencing homelessness.
Hundreds of homeless people attended the event which was held at the parking lot for Secure Waiting and inside Harbor Light. We created an art car, had break-out learning sessions, homeless people wrote and performed a play about the lottery with Theater of the Oppressed facilitators, and ended the day by listening to a funk band and eating BBQ.
The organizers of the event continued a conversation about changing the way people see homeless people, bringing them “Out of the Shadows” (the theme represented the fact that Currie Avenue is in the shadows of downtown, hidden by a parking ramp, and that so few people even know that each night several hundred homeless people sleep right behind the Target Center). It translated to the idea that homeless people die often alone and estranged from their families, asleep outside under bridges, and that nighttime is an especially dangerous time for homeless people. They have to remain hidden because it is illegal to sleep outside.
We wanted to create something solemn reflecting on the “out of the shadows” theme, that also spoke to the cold, the solstice (the day the memorial service sometimes falls on), and the deep sadness our community feels during the memorial walk.
Large paper mache puppets also represent a sort of solidarity movement, culturally connected to Minneapolis, the Heart of the Beast Theatre, etc. Finally, the moon face on the puppet was given deeper meaning to me because many clients helped build and design it especially for the memorial service and John Luna who probably worked the hardest of any client on the puppet, passed away a few years later. His last name (Luna) means moon.
– Allysen Hoberg
Shelter Manager, St Stephens Human Services