The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless held their 28th annual Homeless Person’s Memorial Vigil on the steps of Denver’s City and County Building Thursday night. More than 200 people were memorialized — the most deaths ever recognized at the event, and 60 more names than the previous year.
A large crowd held candles and chanted “we will remember” as 232 names were read aloud. Coalition spokeswoman Cathy Alderman said the rising number of deaths has to do with Denver’s lack of affordable housing and problems with substance abuse.
“A lot of people are suffering from substance use disorders including opioid addictions and there’s just no place for them to go,” she said. “There’s no place for them to get treatment and so they’re literally dying on the streets.”
Members of the coalition said 30 percent of 2017’s deaths were from overdoses and 80 percent of the overdoses were opioid related.
Temperatures at the vigil dropped below freezing, which served as an important reminder of the challenges homeless have to face, Alderman said.
“So while it is cold we really appreciate the support of the community to come out on a night like this and honor those who may not otherwise be honored.”
In past years, Mayor Michael Hancock has been a regular speaker at the ceremony but has been absent for the last two. The mayor has faced recent criticism for Denver’s homeless camp sweeps. In late 2016, several homeless camps were removed from downtown sidewalks, leading to a lawsuit against the city. The suit claims the sweeps violated the homeless population’s fourth and 14th Amendment rights.
City officials, including the mayor, are always invited, Alderman said, but the coalition has decided its best for the names to be read by those who had direct contact with the deceased.
“We don’t want to make this an opportunity for conflict or anything that could lead to some kind of distraction from the actual intent of the event.”