A sombre memorial vigil marked by both song and silence commemorated three more homeless deaths in Toronto during the monthly vigil held Tuesday outside the Church of the Holy Trinity.

More than 30 people cupping candles that flickered in the cold morning air gathered in the courtyard of the Eaton Centre at noon, as they do on the second Tuesday of every month.

Homeless people, affordable housing advocates and others stood below the steps near a small wooden structure at the south entrance of the church that now contains over 600 names of men, women and children who have lived and died on the streets of Toronto as a direct result of homelessness since 1990.

The one hour event was sombre as long stretches of speeches were mixed with the crowd listening to poems and music.

Housing activist Tanya Gulliver said one of the names added was from a homeless death in 1996.

“I think this speaks to the importance of the memorial because this was a family member who came to the church and asked that her sibling be added to the memorial,” she said.

Every month for the last ten years, the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) has tracked and monitored homeless deaths in the City of Toronto and held a vigil at the Homeless Memorial in downtown Toronto.

TDRC is a group of social policy, health care and housing experts, academics, business people, community health workers, social workers, AIDS activists, anti-poverty activists, people with homelessness experience, and members of the faith community who provide advocacy on housing and homelessness issues.

In 1998, they declared homelessness a national disaster and demanded that Canada end homelessness by implementing a fully-funded National Housing Program.

In 2009, there were 29 names added to the Homeless Memorial.

“We know that these are only a fraction of the names of homeless people who have died,” said Gulliver. “I was in a shelter recently that said they have at least one death a month and I know we don’t have their names on here.”

Former United Church of Canada moderator Bruce McLeod, in referring to the homeless, said, “They are shadows cast on the sidewalk as we rush by, cell phones in our ears, human shadows beneath our golden towers, our endless stadiums, opera houses, theatres, shopping malls, our rent gouging rooming houses.”

We refer to the homeless in distant, abstract terms, said McLeod.

“There is no such thing as the homeless,” he said. “There are only people without homes, people with names and dreams and memories.”


John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.