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How the city of Copenhagen is giving the homeless dignified burials
The homeless living without dignity often die and are buried without dignity in anonymous, cheap, graves. But this is changing in Copenhagen where a prestigious spot in the citys most famous cemetery has been set aside for the homeless. - photo by Daniel Lombardi
The homeless often die and are buried without ceremony in anonymous, cheap graves. But that is changing in Copenhagen, Denmark, where a prestigious spot in the citys most famous cemetery has been set aside for the homeless, Smithsonian Magazine reported last week.

About 10 homeless people have been cremated and buried in the new section of the cemetery and Stine Helweg, a specialist in the cemeteries of Copenhagen, told the Atlantics CityLab blog that some homeless people have made it part of their daily routine to visit and mourn in the new cemetery section. They collect flowers from flower shops and come with 20 bouquets.

Assistens is Denmarks most famous graveyard where more than 300,000 people have been buried. In the past the homeless were cremated in urns and buried there in unmarked graves with little or no biographical information to identify the deceased.

With no specific grave to visit, mourners often memorialized their deceased loved ones with photographs hung on a prominent tree. After the tree was removed by local government, a local advocacy group, Giv Din Hnd, convinced the city to set aside a portion of the cemetery for the homeless.

A family graveyard is where you can talk about the old ones and remember, said Michael Espensen, who works for Giv Din Hnd. Its the same for the homeless. And because most of the homeless dont have family, their friends on the street become their family.

In the U.S., many major cities bury their poor and homeless in so-called paupers graves. The thousands of homeless who die every year in New York City are buried by convicts in nameless graves on a small uninhabited island, according to an earlier article in the Smithsonian.

But a few places have found ways to honor deceased homeless, according to the Nation. In Seattle, a group of women hold sidewalk vigils for the homeless who die on the streets and other cities host similar memorials.

Its a spiritual thing and also a rallying cry, said Carol Cameron of the Homeless Remembrance Project in Seattle. We are crying out and people are hearing us. There are so many more homeless people now. Alive or dead, homeless people do matter.

In the United Kingdom, impoverished families can receive a small funeral payment to help with burial costs of a family member, but this doesn't help the homeless without families.

The anonymity the homeless take to their graves has also been addressed in popular entertainment. A 2009 scene of NBCs fictional TV show The West Wing, now on YouTube, the presidents communication director secretly arranges a memorial for a homeless Korean War veteran who froze to death.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized adequate housing as a basic human right but the right to a dignified burial was not included. The World Health Organization has advocated against mass burials in disaster situations.
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