'Everyone has a legacy': City gives proper burial to 50 people who were homeless

memorial for Philadelphia's homeless
Photo credit Racquel Williams/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — High atop the hilly Mount Peace Cemetery is a plot with marked graves for the remains of 50 unhoused individuals now getting the burial they deserve.

On Tuesday, 50 Philadelphia police cadets handed off the urns of homeless individuals whose remains were left unclaimed in the city morgue one by one to be buried.

It was an honorable and noble display led by Self Inc., a human services agency that runs homeless shelters and conducts outreach across the city, for humans who were not known personally by those in attendance, but who deserved a show of selfless humanity.

“We reclaimed these bodies, and these cremains to ensure that they had a dignified death, and that we all show that there is love amongst us. It takes a village to do every single thing,” said Jaqueline Baily-Davis, staff inspector for the city police department.

The spark for this burial program came from Michael Henson following the death of Lester Ross, a man who was well known among the homeless community in Philadelphia. Ross died from COVID-19 during the pandemic and his ashes were left unclaimed in the city morgue.

A New Orleans-style celebration was held in honor of Ross, but not every homeless person who dies is honored, which is why Henson came up with the idea of burying their unclaimed remains.

“We live in a society where people are earmarked by what they have – their fame, their fortune determines their worth – but that is not the case,” said Shirlana Dash, chief operating officer of Self Inc. “It is important that we honor every life that's lived, for everyone has a legacy.”

Ninth District City Councilman Anthony Phillips says this memorial humanizes the fact that anyone who doesn't have a home is still human.

“And they deserve respect and dignity.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Racquel Williams/KYW Newsradio