Annual Bloomington Ceremony Remembers Local Unhoused Who Passed Away Amid Rising National Homelessness Rates and Local Challenges

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – DECEMBER 13: Members of the Bloomington community gather to remember the names of the unhoused who have died since last year on December 13, 2023 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)

Staff report

Bloomington, Indiana – December 17, 2023

Several dozen Bloomington community members attended the annual ceremony, finally held on December 13, 2023, at the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in downtown Bloomington. The event had been canceled twice due to adverse weather conditions.

This annual gathering offers the community an opportunity to remember individuals who are currently unhoused or have experienced homelessness in the past and have passed away in the year since the previous ceremony.

According to the announcement on Beacon, Inc.’s Facebook event, the vigil, held on Wednesday, December 13th, aimed to join First Christian Church in a nationwide movement protesting the tragedy of homelessness and honoring those who had experienced homelessness and passed away in the past year.

Rev. Forrest Gilmore, executive director of Beacon, reported that at least 38 individuals had died since the last memorial. However, he believed that overall deaths among the unhoused were reduced by 10-20 percent.

Due to weather delays, the period between the last two ceremonies was extended to 15 months instead of the usual 12. Four individuals who had not been mentioned in the previous year were included in this year’s list, and at least 10 deaths had occurred since September.

Gilmore mentioned that three individuals had died from drug overdoses in Bloomington over a single weekend, though he wasn’t certain if all the overdose victims were unhoused. Another individual had been recently murdered near the Wheeler Mission. The victim, Shaquille Phillips, 31, was reported to have been killed with a machete after being struck and left to die, according to court records.

According to the Associated Press, homelessness had increased by 12 percent nationwide due to soaring rents and the expiration of coronavirus financial aid.

Bloomington is not the only Southern Indiana city grappling with homelessness. Recently, Columbus, Indiana, received notification of approximately 130 homeless encampments, a record number for the city.

The dangers of living outside were highlighted by a recent fire at a camp on Bloomington’s west side. Additionally, the murder at a large camp near Wheeler Mission raised questions about whether local officials and Democratic politicians would clear out the camp, as they had done with others.

Advocates for the unhoused argued that providing housing is the solution, rather than clearing homeless camps, as such actions force the unhoused to relocate, avoiding public officials.

Numerous camps around Bloomington have been cleared out in recent years, including those in People’s Park, on Kirkwood, in Seminary Park, and camps along local creeks near Switchyard Park and behind stores like Big Lots and At Home. Despite these efforts, the issue persists.

It is worth noting that most crimes within homeless camps go unreported. In the case of the recent murder, although several witnesses were present during the conflict leading to the man’s death, no one contacted the police until the victim was discovered lifeless in a creek.

Amidst a pandemic and an escalating opioid crisis over the past few years, Bloomington also faced the challenge of being one of Indiana’s least affordable cities.

2023 Homeless Memorial Vigil Names

Chris Ashborn
Leah Baugh

Richard Berrett

Billy Chambers

ReShawn Cobb

Reggie Coffie

Travis Combs

Brenda Cox

Spynn DeRella
Raleigh Elza
Scott Emswiller
Harry “Junior” Fluharty

Jeremy Fowler

Lucien “Lou” Frederick

Brandon Goodman

Dayton “Mo” Griffey

Darren Haggerty

Traleigh Henderson

Ralph “Jimmy” Huff
Buford Ison
Angela Johnson

Jeffrey Lyle Allan

Mackey Mary McDonald

Kim McGee

Cody Mikesell

Ricky Moore
Elijuah “Beads” Nail

Angie (Angela) Parks

Charles Perrine

Adam Stivers
Melissa Dawn Tatum
Jennifer Tisdel

Donnie Webber

Daniel Westerfield

Donald “Jerrod” Whaley

Ernest Whitten
Shaquille Phillips

***Please tell a Beacon staff member if you know someone we’ve missed. ***

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – DECEMBER 13: Members of the Bloomington community gather to remember the names of the unhoused who have died since last year on December 13, 2023 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)

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