Last month, the city of Denver held a candlelight vigil for 171 homeless or formerly homeless people. Seventy-nine of those people passed away on the streets of Denver in 2016. The short candlelight ceremony hosted by Colorado Coalition for the Homeless included a reading of the list of the decedents’ names. After each name is read, the memorial attendees chant, “We will remember.” It is the only memorial service many of these individuals will receive.
Almost every year the name of at least one Denver VOICE vendor shows up on that list. I thought we were going to make it through 2016 without losing a vendor (or former vendor), but then last month I learned at the memorial service that two former VOICE vendors had passed away: Tommy Gonzales and Bruce Wright.
Bruce was the very first Denver VOICE vendor. He sold the early version of the VOICE, back when it was distributed for free from the DenUM building. When the paper was resurrected in 2007 with a formal vendor program, Bruce had badge #0001. He even served on the board of the VOICE for a few years, and had found housing by the time he passed away.
In addition to the memorial service, every year the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless publishes the macabrely-named Homeless Death Review, a report detailing mortality demographics for people experiencing homelessness. The life expectancy of someone living on the streets is about 30 years shorter than the life expectancy of a housed person. Even for a person like Bruce who makes it into housing, a history of experiencing homelessness takes its toll. According to the 2016 Homeless Death Review, 80 percent of the people memorialized at the last vigil were 60 years old or younger at the time they died.
Bruce would have turned 60 on December 25, 2016. He passed away on November 8, before he could celebrate that milestone birthday. We will remember Bruce, and Tommy, and all the others who passed away last year. ■