LUBBOCK, Texas – On Wednesday, the South Plains Homeless Consortium (SPHC) held a local candlelight vigil at the Salvation Army’s Dave Freriks Disaster Complex Park and Playground as part of National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. 

“It’s important to have a memorial every year to remember our friends that died on the streets to give them dignity and remember these are people that we knew,” said Jaime Wheeler, director of survivor housing at Open Door.

The nationwide tradition is commemorated annually on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice (usually Dec. 21) to honor the lives of those who died without housing. 

“There are a lot of different things that people die about on the streets,” Wheeler said. “It can be violence, it can be weather related, people are attacked sometimes.”

According to the National Health Care For The Homeless Council (NHCHC), homelessness began as a nationwide epidemic in the 1980s.

The first Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day was back in 1990, and 32 years later, the NHCHC said there are even more people living and dying without housing.

“Most people who pass away while experiencing homelessness won’t have a funeral, they may not have had family surrounding them in illness,” said Tamara Duncan, SPHC president. “This event is just a way to commemorate their lives and honor them.”

According to an April 2022 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report on homelessness in Lubbock, 259 people were counted this year. 

Wheeler said many who die on the streets go unreported, but she estimated at least nine homeless people died this year on the South Plains. 

“We also lost a couple of people this year that for years had been homeless, and over this last year or two were housed,” Wheeler said. “While it was really sad to lose them, it was a beautiful thing that they were surrounded by friends, that they were taken care of and that they died in housing. The end goal is that we work really hard so everyone has a home, has a safe place to be in, and has the support they need to be able to stay in housing.”

Wheeler said it’s extremely important for the homeless to find shelter over the next couple of days with the upcoming freezing temperatures. She said anyone struggling on the streets is welcome to go to the Salvation Army Texas South Plains or Open Door.