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Race, Religion & Social Justice

Salt Lake Community Remembers More Than 100 Homeless People Who Have Died And Whose Remains Were Unclaimed

A photo of people standing in pews at the Cathedral of the Madeline.
Emily Means
/
KUER
Salt Lake City community members attended a memorial service for people experiencing homelessness at The Cathedral of the Madeleine Tuesday evening. The Very Reverend Martin Diaz led them in reading the names of those who died.

Chaplain Shantel McBride said she was struck by the sight of 150 black cremation boxes laid out at Neil O'Donnell Funeral Home in downtown Salt Lake City.

“I walked in this room and I said, ‘What is this?’ and they said, ‘These are the remains of the homeless that have passed here in Salt Lake unclaimed,’” McBride said. “I just felt this heaviness right away of, you know, these people deserve to have a respectful memorial and be released and honored.”

She organized a funeral service for them, with poetry, music and acts of faith.

“We gather our hearts here today with a love that transcends identity,” she prayed during the memorial service. “For while some of these were known to us, many were known only to you, dear Lord … May today remind each of us gathered here, as we acknowledge those who have departed, that they are now, as they were at conception, perfect, created in your image and deserving of love.”

As part of the service, around 50 people trekked through the rain up to The Cathedral of the Madeleine, accompanied by bagpipe players.

A photo of black creation boxes on a table.
Emily Means
The unclaimed remains of people who died homeless were held in these cremation boxes at Neil O’Donnell Funeral Home. “It's important that we just acknowledge the unsheltered population, living or dead, and just basically say, we see you, we love you and we want to help,” said Nathan Kizerian, who attended Tuesday’s memorial.

The bells of the cathedral rang as attendees read the names of those who died.

Jennifer, who declined to give her last name, said she has previously experienced homelessness in Salt Lake City.

“I’m here because the people who I know pass away on the street,” she said. “Most of the time, you don’t hear about it in the news. If you’re not there, you don’t know about it. And if they don’t have anybody to [write] an obituary, nobody knows who they are.”

Nathan Kizerian, with the homeless outreach group Unsheltered Utah, said he came to honor them as well. Although he doesn’t know how the individuals died, he pointed out the local government’s response to homelessness.

“These are human beings that were forgotten, who may have succumbed to the elements because of abatements in Salt Lake City,” Kizerian said, referring to the homeless camp closures that Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake County Health Department conduct. “It's important that we just acknowledge the unsheltered population, living or dead, and just basically say, we see you, we love you and we want to help.”

Kizerian said Unsheltered Utah will be posting the names of the people who died, in case any loved ones are looking for closure.

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