- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Everyone has value.

That idea is behind the annual homeless memorial service set for the first day of winter on the steps of the state Capitol.

At last Sunday’s event, about 25 people gathered despite the high winds for the memorial service.

“It would be sad to have an entire life lived by somebody and not be remembered,” Wyoming Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Rachel Bennett said.

One goal of the annual event is to have people understand that everyone is doing the best that they can and that everyone matters, she said.

“With the world the way it is, anybody could become homeless,” she said. “We never know what someone’s personal issues are, or what their struggles are, and we (need to) have a greater understanding of each other - wherever we can help each other, let’s do that.”

The program was started several years ago by the late head of the Wyoming Coalition for the Homeless Virginia Sellner, Bennett said.

“She decided to have it held on winter solstice to symbolize what it’s like to be homeless living outside and not having a roof over their head,” Bennett said.

The program has continued as part of a commitment to the traditions Sellner started, Bennett said, and as a way to give a voice to the homeless in the community.

Several of those attending the event came from different service organizations, but many also brought family members to give them more of an understanding of the topic.

Cheyenne’s Crossroads Clinic Director Melissa Ipsen attended the event with her children for that reason, she said.

“I wanted to come because homelessness is an issue that affects all of us, and I wanted to introduce my children to the event,” she said. “They need to understand that there are people who have died this year from not being housed.”

Others said they attended to show support and help raise awareness.

“Homelessness hasn’t gone away from our community,” attendee and coalition board member Mary Lee Dixon said.

Among the speakers at this year’s memorial service was Darrell Ross, a member of the city’s homeless who is currently getting assistance through the facilities in Cheyenne.

He spoke about the services he had received and thanked coalition staff members for the work they do.

Crossroads Clinic caseworker Richard McCullough works at the street-level with the homeless community, he said. In the past year, he’s had 214 contacts with people who range from their teens to their 80s, he said. In that time, he has helped them get everything from clean clothes to backpacks, mental health services, medical attention and applications for housing.

The Rev. Rick Veit from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church also spoke at the event.

He shared the names of six homeless people who died in Cheyenne in the last year and rang a bell in their memories. Their names were Mark, Margarita, Kelsey, Rick, Kevin and Anthony.

The bell was rung a seventh time for those who might have died unknown.

“(We) wanted to honor these people, people who probably wouldn’t be honored, not knowing who they are or where they’re from,” Veit said. “In funerals, you want to honor the person, the memory of them and celebrate them.”

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Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

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