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Vigil remembers Duluth's homeless

Participants hold the names of 41 Duluthians who have experienced homelessness and died in the past year. The number is out of a total of 185 in Minnesota. (Photo by Richard Thomas)1 / 4
Participants hold the names of 41 Duluthians who have experienced homelessness and died in the past year. (Photo by Richard Thomas)2 / 4
At the end of the vigil the 41 signs were laid on the steps of City Hall. (Photo by Richard Thomas)3 / 4
A choir sings at the vigil. (Photo by Richard Thomas)4 / 4

Approximately 100 people gathered at Duluth City Hall Christmas Eve in an annual ceremony to remember homeless people who have died in the past year.

"Today we remember 41 children of God, 14 of whom were homeless at the time of their deaths, and the rest were formerly so, but thanks to many of you here, they did not die on the street," said Lee Stuart, executive director of CHUM, a nonprofit that aids the homeless.

"They range in age from 22 to 72," she said. "Their average age of death was a little over 50 years. We're all probably familiar now that with the health disparities in Duluth, our zip code dictates how long we live. The people who are homeless, whose memory we are celebrating today, lived 20 year less than Duluth's most impacted neighborhoods."

"I ran into someone the other day who had in my mind a really unfortunate analysis, that somehow God was punishing these people and teaching them a lesson about something they had done ... I beg to differ," she said.

Jesus helped "people who were at the edges of society or marginalized in some way. And he told us that we could do the same ... We're the ones who need to learn a lesson. God didn't create racism, God didn't create poverty, he didn't create addiction, he didn't create marginalization, we did that," she said.

Rev. Richard Coleman of St. Mark AME Church said, "2017 comes soon and even before then, we have men and women at risk all around us ... Jesus himself was acquainted with our grief even at birth, homeless. And the irony of that is that his family had come to register, to pay their dues. It's wrong in a society when people come to pay their dues, when they give their best, and when their best is not enough, there's not enough. There's not enough love, there's not enough provision, there aren't enough people willing to take a risk, to take a chance on someone. So locked into our status quo and our ways of doing that we cannot find room, we cannot find space in our protocol, we cannot find space in our lives, we should be troubled. And if we're troubled, as God is, he will raise up within us the idea, the provision, the resource we need, so that when we stand here next year, our story can be different."