ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — A remembrance ceremony was held on Wednesday to honor the lives of homeless people who passed away in Roanoke City in 2022.

The congregation sat silently at Greene Memorial United Methodist Church as dozens of names were read and a candle lit for each person who died without a home.

The city holds this ceremony annually on December 21, the first day of winter. They celebrated the lives of 31 homeless individuals who passed away this year.

Paul Powell says there was a time when this could have been him. 20 years ago, he came to Roanoke City with nowhere to live and stayed on the street. He says the names read in service were some of his friends, coworkers, and people he met on his journey of recovering from addiction.

“I’m just thankful to the people of this city for welcoming me the way they did and not viewing me as just another addict,” said Powell.

Pastor Steven Laughridge delivered a message to the city council on the value of the homeless lives, living today. During his sermon, he said, “We have enough buildings in this city that we ought to be able to have them fitted so anybody that wants a decent night’s safe sleep can get it.”

Human Resources Administrator for the City of Roanoke, Matthew Crookshank says there’s been an average of about 30 homeless deaths each of the last few years, which is a significantly higher number than years before the pandemic.

He also said, “Over the last year, we’ve even started to see an increase in our shelter numbers so it’s a tough time. A lot of folks are struggling.”

Crookshank says the causes of death for the people being remembered include overdoses, underlying health conditions, and a lack of access to health care.

Powell says if you are struggling, there is hope in the City of Roanoke. He added, “There were several services here, the Rescue Mission, the VA that helped me recover from homelessness. I decided to stay here in this community. Now I work at the VA hospital in the homeless program.”