According to a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are nearly 50,000 homeless veterans living in America, almost ten percent of the country’s total homeless population. They are an unacceptable consequence of the ways in which safety nets in this country, never strong to begin with, have been stripped to the bone. Every year, many veterans die on the streets, alone and unclaimed, only to be buried with spare courtesy by the city.
The University of Detroit Jesuit High School, with a student body of about 900, all male, wants to change that. They have launched a pallbearer program as part of their service team, the Ignatian Service Corps. The ISC is dedicated to helping the community around the Michigan school, and the pallbearer program in particular is to support veterans.
The program participants, mostly juniors and seniors, train with nearby Desmond Funeral Home to provide the respect and dignity of a proper funeral service to unclaimed veterans.
“We strongly feel that everyone deserves the dignity of having people present at their last moments,” said Leonard Froehlich, a senior who served as a pallbearer in the program’s first outreach, a funeral for three fallen Detroit veterans on October 20th, 2015. Sharply dressed in blazers, with white gloves and school ties, Froehlich and five other juniors and seniors carried the flag-draped coffins before a small gathering of service members.
More than 50 of the school’s students have gone through the training for this unutterably valuable service. Due to the emotional requirements of the voluntary duty, not all have passed, but most will rotate through the responsibilities as they are needed.
While the outreach is focused on veterans, the students hope to expand it to all people in need, to anyone who would otherwise not be buried with dignity, or to families who simply do not have pallbearers.