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Sculpture calls for end to homelessness
Tree of Life helps people
be more aware of people
who have no home
After nine years of planning, homeless women, faith community leaders, designers, artists and social service providers involved in the Homeless Remembrance Project dedicated and celebrated the Tree of Life, a sculpture installed in Victor Steinbrueck Park in Seattle north of Pike Place Market. The ceremony was held on Sunday, Oct. 21.
People gather in Victor Steinbrueck Park in Seattle to dedicate Tree of Life sculpture for the Homeless Remembrance Project. The project artist, Clark Wiegman, worked with the design team, Karen Kiest and Kim Lokan. Photos courtesy of Marcia McLaughlin
Surrounding the sculpture is space for gathering to find hope, beauty and healing. The Tree of Life is a place to continue what started in 12 years of vigils, which have been held for King County men and women who died outside or from violence while they were homeless. The sculpture is a gathering place, engaging people from all walks of life.
“The goal is to recognize that we are one people, homeless and housed, and we can end homelessness,” said Marcia McLaughlin, spiritual director at Richmond Beach UCC in Shoreline.
In addition to the sculpture, bronze leaves of remembrance are placed on the sidewalks around Seattle. Each leaf represents someone homeless who died.
Organizers and sponsors of the Homelessness Remembrance Project include the Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL), the Church of Mary Magdalene, United Methodist, Episcopal and Catholic churches, Temple Beth Om, Horizon House, and Richmond Beach, Prospect and Plymouth UCC churches.
A website at www.fallenleaves.org includes stories of some of the people whose lives are represented by the leaves.
Marcia McLaughlin is among those dedicating the leaf memorials to homeless people.
“Story sharing is part of healing,” said Marcia, who has worked at Mary’s Place, a day shelter for homeless women. She started as an intern in seminary and was interim pastor for a year. She continues to go to jails to talk with women about the help available there.
Mary’s Place grew out of the Church of Mary Magdalene. Richmond Beach, Plymouth and Prospect UCC churches in the Seattle area have Mary’s Place ministries, as does Horizon House.
“Names of women I knew at Mary’s Place are on some of the leaves,” she said.
The leaves are important memorials, because in King County, when indigent people die, they are cremated and their ashes are kept and buried every two years in a grave in Renton.
“This year, for the first time, when they buried the ashes, they read the names of the people,” she said. “Each person is important.”
Marcia was asked to serve on the committee and has worked with it four years through ups and down to persuade government agencies and write grants
On the website is a list of all the names, the sites of their leaves and a map of the leaf locations. It includes stories of individuals represented by the leaves. Family members and friends can request a leaf for someone they lost while they were homeless.
Marcia encourages people to visit the locations where the leaves are in the city, as well as the Tree of Life.
In 2000, WHEEL, a grassroots organizing effort for homeless and formerly homeless women, and the Church of Mary Magdalene, an ecumenical ministry for homeless women, began to stand in one-hour silent vigils for homeless people. Participants dressed in black. In 11 years, they have had vigils for more than 400 people.
Modeling their effort on the international Women in Black movement, they started the local Women in Black to fight indifference to the many people who have died—strangled, stabbed, run over by a train, overdosed or beaten.
In 2005, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Homeless Place of Remembrance on public land, so organizers have worked with Seattle’s departments of parks and recreation, transportation and neighborhood, which funded the conceptual design process and partial construction of this permanent public art project and outreach to raise awareness of the dignity of people struggling with homelessness, Marcia said.
The goal is also to build cooperation to end homelessness.
“If we do not provide more housing, more people will die,” she said. “I’m struck how many times someone homeless is in the hospital and released with nowhere to go and with the likelihood they will die. If it were you or me with insurance, we might be allowed to stay in the hospital two more days.”
She told of one person who had a heart attack in front of the shelter just after the taxi dropped him off.
Many die of drug overdoses, Marcia said, understanding that she might use drugs or alcohol to numb the pain of living on the streets.
“How dare we say people must be clean and sober before they have housing,” she said.
“The project is geared to build awareness so more people will work to end homelessness,” she said, noting that King County has no funding to shelter families, only single adults. “Families are the largest growing group of homeless people.”
Even if families call 211 to find housing, it takes three weeks to arrange an interview and months to be in housing.
Mary’s Place can shelter only 14 mothers and children and 14 couples, just “scratching the surface of needs.”
The stories of people on the website have also helped family members find lost loved ones and add to their stories. Two formerly homeless women maintain the website and Marcia maintains the Facebook page.
She told of several people who live near the park where the Tree of Life has been installed. They had opposed it, but now have said they are sorry they did, because they find it beautiful.
For information, visit http://homelessremembrance.org, www.fallenleaves.org or www.rbccucc.org.
Copyright © December 2012 - Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News
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