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Memorial Service On Winter Solstice Remembers The Homeless — And The Poor

The winter solstice, Dec. 21, is marked every year as Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. It's the longest night of the year.

Every year Key West holds a ceremony remembering those who died during the year. This year 71 names were read.

They ranged in age from infants to 95.

But only nine of them were homeless. The rest were people still listed on the county forms as "paupers" - those whose remains went unclaimed. So the county takes responsibility for cremation and their remains are placed in the crypt owned by the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition.

"A lot of these individuals were on their own," said Sheryl Graham, Monroe County's senior director of social services. "There were no family members, or the family members were in a position where they did not have the financial ability to pay."

Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
The vault at the Key West Cemetery was purchased by the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition.

Graham said the county is obliged by law to take care of those remains. But she said it's also their mission "to treat them in death as they should have been treated in life. As valuable individuals. Give them their name. And treat them with dignity and respect."

Five of those remembered at Thursday's ceremony were veterans. None of the five were homeless at the time of their deaths.