PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Lester Ross was well known among the homeless community in Philadelphia. People who knew him said he had an infectious smile and an outgoing personality.
Ross died from COVID-19 in 2020, and it was discovered that his ashes were left unclaimed in the city morgue.
“We had a New Orleans-style celebration of Lester Ross’ life, and this was initiated by Michael Henson, because he had found out about Lester’s transition,” said Quibila Divine with Self Inc., a human services agency that runs homeless shelters and conducts outreach across the city.
Henson, who died last year, came up with the idea of burying unclaimed remains of people who were homeless. It has since become a tradition, and this year the remains of 50 individuals will be buried at Mt. Peace Cemetery on May 23.
“This memorial helps those who have experienced homelessness and their families understand that despite whatever they were going through, at the time that they transitioned, there are people who care for them,” Divine said.
Michele Wexler, with the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, said they hope to continue to bury the unclaimed remains of unsheltered people each year.
“We just really care for the souls that have not been able to be buried,” she said. “It feels so tragic to think that not only did somebody in life maybe struggle, but now they're just not claimed.”
The Lester Ross Memorial Fund was created for people who wish to help.