Cities Remember Homeless Who've Died

Since he went from home remodeler to homeless person two years ago, Tim Cook has been robbed eight times, been beaten up five times and suffered four staph infections.

"It's been utter, complete despair," said Cook, 50. "You're completely at the mercy of other people."

Five of Cook's friends have died homeless, including one who had a stroke two weeks ago. Their stories and cries, though, are rarely heard.

For the first time, Honolulu joined cities across the country Tuesday in remembering the thousands who died homeless in 2004. A record 125 cities — 25 more than last year — are holding events this week to observe National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day (search).

"The memorial day is a way to make sure no one's life goes unnoticed," said Michael Stoops of the Washington-based National Coalition of Homeless (search).

The homeless coalition estimates there are more than 3.5 million homeless Americans nationwide. An estimated 3,000 died last year, and the homeless coalition expects that figure to rise this year. The No. 1 cause of death was natural causes, followed by homicide, suicide and hypothermia, Stoops said.

Stoops began the annual remembrance in 1990, choosing Dec. 21, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year.

"Americans are good and decent people. Nobody wants people to live or die homeless. I think we've just become accustomed to it," he said.

In Philadelphia, where temperatures hovered near freezing, homeless advocates held a candlelight ceremony outside City Hall to remember 33 homeless people who died.

"They died from the apathy and the violence and the horrendous conditions that poverty put them in," said Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of the homeless advocacy group Project HOME (search).

In Cheyenne, Wyo., Gov. Dave Freudenthal attended a memorial service on the steps of the Capitol.

Church bells tolled across Baltimore in remembrance of that city's 79 homeless who died this year.

The Ohio Coalition of Homeless Advocates coordinated events in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton to remember more than 40 homeless who died across the state in 2004.

There are about 6,000 homeless people in Hawaii, and about 30 die every year in Honolulu alone, according to the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance.

As the sun set over balmy Honolulu, about 20 students from Moanalua High School gathered in Ala Moana Beach Park. The teens passed out bottled water and shoe boxes filled with toilet paper, toothbrushes, soap and shampoo that they had bought or collected.

The experience changed the perspective that Felipe Ojastro had about homeless people and was "better than getting Christmas presents."

"We're seeing a soft side to them," said Ojastro, 16, a junior. "Just their faces after seeing the box, it really means a lot to us."