Guest Author: Brian Thomas, PCM Chaplain

Everyone wants to be remembered. Everyone wants to believe that they will not be forgotten when they die. For many homeless persons, this is actually something they think about. ‘Will anyone remember me when I am gone? Will anyone notice or care?’ The reality of death is something that the chronically homeless have witnessed up close. Every year, I maintain a list of names of those who die homeless in our community. It’s only April, but I already have seven names on my list.

This morning I was talking to one of our guests, a chronically homeless man, approaching his seventh decade of life. He’s the one who brought it up. “How’s that project out back coming along?”

“You mean the memorial garden?” I asked.

“Yeah, how’s that coming?”

I told him about our plans to put up a fence, plant trees, flowers and shrubs, and build a wall – a wall inscribed with the names of homeless men and women. I told him about our efforts to raise the funds to buy the materials. Then I asked what he thought about the project.

“I think it’s a good idea. A real good idea.”

My homeless friend is probably more sensitive to the topic than most. His health is failing. He’s not as strong as he used to be. He sits in the homeless shelter, taking breathing treatments several times a day. And then, there’s the burden of what happened six weeks ago – his friend said he wasn’t feeling well and lay down to take a nap. He never woke up.

Everyone wants to be remembered, but what about those who don’t have the money to pre-plan their own funeral, buy a cemetery plot and headstone?  What about those who have no family to write a eulogy or epitaph? What about them? Does anyone remember that their life mattered?

I have in my possession the ashes of a man who spent decades as a hobo – a train rider, with no family, no home, no roots. Somehow he landed in Lincoln. At the People’s City Mission he got sober, got a job, and then, for the first time in many years, he got an apartment of his own. When he died, he had no resources, so People’s City Mission became the heir of his ashes. Who will remember him if we do not?

At People’s City Mission, we have an idea that we think will help our community remember that every life matters. We envision a garden, bordered by a white picket fence, shaded by trees that burn golden in the autumn air, scented with flowers that bloom in the spring sunshine, benches that welcome those with tired feet to rest and remember those who died homeless. The centerpiece of the garden is a red brick wall. On the wall are the names of those men and women who died homeless. Homeless, not forgotten. Homeless in life, not in death.

We are going to build a garden, but we can’t do it without your help. We intend to use volunteer labor for the construction and landscaping, but we need cash to purchase the materials. Will you help us remember the homeless?

If you want to help with our Memorial Garden project, please contact Pastor Tom Barber at 402.475.1303 or email: