Flowers planted in the memory of those lost over the last year at The Bridges Emergency Shelter is meant to help shelter clients grieve and remember those they call family.
The project was initiated last year by a couple of staff at the shelter's drop-in centre, said Anne Tinker, interim executive director, Cambridge Shelter Corporation, The Bridges.
The memorial garden, which is built on a raised bed next to a wall facing Simcoe Street, was created to remember the eight people, shelter clients and bachelor apartment tenants, that died over the last year since COVID-19 started, she said.
"We thought it would be nice to have some acknowledgement of that," said Tinker, adding reasons for death included natural causes and a few by overdoses. "It's important to recognize those individuals and let people that were close to them share their stories and their remembrances of them."
In non-pandemic conditions, she said, the shelter holds an individual service for every person that dies.
"We do it for everyone," Tinker added.
Individuals experiencing homelessness become like family to each other, she said.
"They support each other, because often they're estranged from their own family or don't have family. So they grieve just as their own family member would die,"
The garden, Tinker said, is a visual for those who have lost friends and acquaintances and know that they have not been forgotten.
"That somebody cares that those people were here to begin with and that their death has not gone unnoticed or their lives uncelebrated," she added. "It's like some people go to a cemetery to plant flowers on a tombstone."
And even though the garden can be seen by those walking in the area, Tinker said, it wasn't to show the community at large, per se.
"We did it for ourselves and for the people that are staying or living here that their friends are remembered and valued," she said. "I think what that says to the community is that regardless of whether someone is homeless or not, they're still a person. And they are members of our community."
The goal is always is to help people find permanent housing, Tinker said.
"We've housed 106 people since the pandemic started," she said. "But sometimes, something happens and it's sad and it's unexpected, but there's still reason to celebrate that person's life."