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On the morning of Feb. 25, SELF, Inc. coordinated with well-known interfaith group members to offer honorable cremations and burials for 23 unclaimed, formerly homeless Philadelphians. Photo: Raymond Jones
On the morning of Feb. 25, SELF, Inc. coordinated with well-known interfaith group members to offer honorable cremations and burials for 23 unclaimed, formerly homeless Philadelphians. Photo: Raymond Jones

Community leaders offer honorable burials for 23 formerly homeless Philadelphians

In coordination with interfaith group members, SELF, Inc. allowed 23 formerly homeless Philadelphians a proper burial at Mount Peace Cemetery on Feb. 25.

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On the morning of Feb. 25, SELF, Inc. coordinated with well-known interfaith group members to offer honorable cremations and burials for 23 unclaimed, formerly homeless Philadelphians.

Last October, SELf, Inc. partnered with the Office of Homeless Services, the Department of Behavioral Health, Intellectual Disability Services, and One Day At A Time for a “New Orleans Style Celebration of Life.”

The celebration of life was in honor of Lester Ross. Ross, who was a participant of homeless programs, died due to COVID-19 complications. 

It was during Ross’ service when Michael Hinson, President and Chief Operating Officer, SELF, Inc., decided to start the Lester Ross Homeless Memorial Fund. 

“It was during our services for Lester that we learned of the additional 23 other formerly homeless Philadelphians who transitioned and who had not been claimed,” said Hinson. “Leaving those remains unburied is unacceptable. Our focus was to bring wide attention to the plight of providing funding and burial services for homeless Philadelphians.”

The Lester Ross Homeless Memorial Fund raised the money for the burials. The burial service came in the wake of COVID-19, and its effects on the city.

SELF, Inc. is stressing the dignity and humanity of proper burial services or cremations, the providing of closure and a celebration of life.

Friday’s burial service took place at Mount Peace Cemetery at 11 a.m. The cemetery will be the final resting place of the 23 individuals.

The nonprofit human services agency coordinated with civic and community leaders in addition to clergy members in the burial service.

The burial service asks for further understanding in the lives of people facing homelessness, and how they often become marginalized due to living conditions and mental health.

In Philadelphia, between the years 2011 and 2015, 269 persons were homeless at the time of their death. 

At the end of 2018, 132 persons were reported homeless at the time of their death within the year alone. This data was supplied by CHART — the City of Philadelphia’s public health publication — within its fourth volume.

However, this data has ceased to be updated on a yearly basis by the city after Volume 4. CHART’s fifth and sixth volumes do not contain data on deaths among people experiencing homelessness.

Speakers at Friday’s burial service included:

  • Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode, Sr., First Baptist Church of Paschall, President and CEO, SELF, Inc. 
  • Mike Hinson, President and Chief Operating Officer, SELF, Inc.
  • Dr. Jacqueline Bailey-David, Staff Inspector, Philadelphia Police Department
  • David Fair, Treasurer, SELF, Inc.
  • Roberta Cancellier, Deputy Director, Office of Homeless Services 
  • Sister Mary Scullion, Executive Director, Project HOME
  • Rev. Marshall Mitchell, Salem Baptist Church of Abington
  • Rev. Nicolas O'Rourke, Living Water United Church of Christ, Co-Chair Faith Caucus- Community Organizer for POWER (Pennsylvanians Organized to Witness Empower & Rebuild) 
  • Imam Idris Abdul-Zahir, Masjidullah, Inc.
  • Rev. Naomi Washington Leapheart, Director for Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs, City of Philadelphia
  • Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari, Kol Tzedek (West Philadelphia Synagogue)
  • Rev. Beverly Gray, Christ Community Baptist Church, Program Director, SELF-Outley House

“Every life has value. Families of chronically homeless people do not have the money to pay for traditional funeral services, so their loved ones ’cremated remains are left unclaimed,” said Dr. Bailey-Davis.

“To provide a sense of respect and decency for the dearly departed, we wanted to help with providing dignity in death and being committed to our city’s motto of “Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”

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This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.
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