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In wind and rain, Washington Park vigil honors homeless Cincinnatians who died in 2018

Posted at 12:08 AM, Dec 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-22 00:59:35-05

CINCINNATI — Bonnie Neumeier numbered among Shelter House’s first volunteers in the 1970s, when the homeless people its one-room storefront served were largely men in their mid-60s. The problem has only grown since then, encompassing ever-larger numbers of mothers and children.

“(I’m) sad and angry that the same time that this problem still exists over this many years,” she said Friday night. “We’ve got to do something about it.”

Although wind and rain occasionally extinguished their candles, she and dozens of others gathered in Washington Park for a vigil in honor of the 109 Cincinnatians who died of complications related to homelessness in 2018. The youngest was 22.

The vigil marked the end of a year in which the city of Cincinnati took emergency legislative action to disperse a handful of large-scale homeless camps that appeared over the summer, leading advocates for displaced people to accuse Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters of attempting to move the problem out of sight instead of addressing it. At the end of the previous year, a homeless man named Ken Martin died of alcohol poisoning on a bench in Government Square.

Friday's weather was fitting to commemorate such grim events, Neumeier added.

“In a night like this, cold and wet, it makes you really think and be empathetic to what it’s like to be out in the streets,” she said.

National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, observed on the longest day of each year, is meant as a reminder of “our collective failure to adequately address homelessness,” according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

To Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, that failure is neglecting to provide affordable housing in the city. His organization claims Cincinnati lacks 40,000 units of affordable housing, and that shortage contributes to deaths like the ones the group mourned Friday night.

Neumeier agreed.

"I believe strongly that this (death) doesn’t have to happen if our city and government would put more dollars and emphasis and political will to do more affordable housing,” she said.