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Executive Director
+ Lynn Lewis

Communications & Policy
+ Sam J. Miller

Homeless Organizing Academy Coordinator
+ Marie LaPort

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Picture the Homeless
104 East 126th Street #1B [Storefront]
New York NY 10035
Phone:(646) 314-6423

Potter's Field Campaigns

The Potter's Field Campaign grew out of the loss of Picture the Homeless' co-founder, Lewis Haggins, on December 23, 2003.  Picture the Homeless, under the leadership of the Civil Rights Committee, had made attempts, prior to Lewis' passing, to gain access to potter's field to remember the countless homeless buried there.  But Lewis' passing struck home, in a very personal way, how important it is for the poor to have closure in their relationships and to know that they, themselves, will be reposed in dignity.

The way the poor and homeless are handled after they die in New York City is not the only insult the poor face... but it's the final insult.

The essentially spiritual nature of the Potter's Field Campaign makes us unique among Picture the Homeless' campaigns.  In order to succeed, we needed to build on existing relationships with faith leaders and reach out to a more diverse range of faith leaders.  As a result of our efforts, Picture the Homeless now counts among our close allies leaders of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faiths.  As we move forward, we hope to broaden our alliances to include leaders of non-Abrahamaic faiths.

All who pass from this life possess a sacred dignity intrinsic to their membership among the human family; and all consequently deserve to be reposed in dignity and remembered with honor and love.

Every two months, Picture the Homeless and Interfaith Friends of Potters Field hold a memorial service for those buried on Potters Field, the city cemetery for the indigent and unclaimed. Contact William Burnett to register for future services.

Goals of the Potter’s Field Campaign

The Potter’s Field Campaign pursued several goals with three major areas of concern:

  • Access for the homeless to Hart Island so they can mourn the loss of their close friends who passed from their community;
  • Use technology to ID people more quickly to notify family and friends in a timely fashion ; most homeless people have come in contact with DHS, HRA or NYPD and have been fingerprinted;
  • And engagement of faith communities to pursue alternative burial sites to Potter’s Field.

The objectives approved in common by the Potter's Field Campaign were:

    Use technology to ID people more quickly to notify family and friends in a timely fashion:  most homeless people have come in contact with DHS, HRA or NYPD and have been fingerprinted;
  • Restore dignity to homeless people in death;
  • Build a chapel, a prayer or meditation place, that is accessible to any member of the public who wants to go there one day a month that doesn’t conflict with DOC;
  • Allow faith leaders to a monthly interfaith service at Potters Field;
  • Schedule monthly trips to Potters Field for mourners;
  • Erect a public memorial to commemorate the dead;
  • Expose conditions to the public to put public pressure: it is the city’s obligation to provide a public cemetery;
  • List obituaries of deceased homeless persons in the newspapers and/or a website;
  • Handle bodies with dignity, have some type of faith component;
  • End mass grave burial;
  • Take down the sign -- (the sign at the ferry identifying it as "Prison").

The secret to the overwhelming success of Potter’s Field Campaign just one year after we began lies in the deep resonance of this issue among our membership because we know that this is likely to be our final resting place.  In addition, the support from clergy and lay leaders from various faith communities of an agenda developed by homeless people and which ultimately resulted in the formation of Interfaith Friends of Potters Field has been invaluable.  The family of Lewis Haggins, who have joined us in campaign meetings, as well as with public officials has been inspirational.

The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary hosted a dialogue between Picture the Homeless and faith leaders on March 1, 2005.  This dialogue gave us the opportunity to educate faith leaders about the manner in which bodies of the poor are handled after they die and about the hardships the poor face as they seek to find closure in the loss of their close friends.  Everyone left that dialogue agreeing that real changes were needed in the way the City handles deaths among the poor.

Members of the Potter's Field Campaign, under the leadership of the Rev. Amy Gopp, developed a moving memorial, “With All Due Respect,” to honor the lives of all those buried in Potter's Field.  Union Theological Seminary hosted this memorial on March 3, 2005.

On June 22, 2005, a follow up gathering of faith leaders took place at Picture the Homeless’ office.  By this time, the Potter’s Field Campaign was able to bring to the table solid proposals for how faith communities could assist us in affecting the types of changes we had previously agreed needed to happen.  Between the March and June meetings, Picture the Homeless had an opportunity to do more extensive outreach to broaden the diversity of faith communities supporting our campaign.

The faith leaders present at the June meeting agreed to form a group through which they would act collectively to support our campaign and to coordinate ministry to interfaith memorial services.  The new group calls themselves, “Interfaith Friends of Potter’s Field.”  So far, the “Interfaith Friends of Potter’s Field” has helped to secure bi-monthly interfaith memorial services on Potter’s Field.  They are meeting soon to decide how they will proceed in coordinating those memorial services and to consider how they can further assist our Potter’s Field Campaign.

past campaigns

2005 – Worked with Thomas McCarthy, unofficial historian for Hart Island, to include a memorial card for Lewis Haggins at correctionhistory.org.

2005 to Present – Forced the Department of Corrections to reverse its policy prohibiting friends and family from visiting Potters Field to pay their respects to homeless people who pass away. To this day, Picture the Homeless coordinates interfaith services on Potters Field six times per year.

2005 – Interfaith Friends of Potter’s Field and members of Picture the Homeless’ Potter’s Field Campaign met with Deputy Commissioner Thomas Antenen of the Department of Correction to negotiate interfaith memorial services on Hart Island. As a result of that meeting, the Department of Correction has provisionally allowed bi-monthly memorial services.

2005 – Co wrote a liturgy with Union Theological Seminary Student Rev Amy Gopp, “With All Due Respect” to honor the lives of all those buried in Potter's Field. Union Theological Seminary hosted this memorial on March 3, 2005 and have and now adopted as part of their curricula.

2005 – Won the addition of a staffer person at the City Morgue to conduct additional identity verification for deceased Jane and John Does.

2005 – Won for the first time, the right for homeless people to travel to Potters Field to mourn a friend. Several members of Picture the Homeless, Lewis Haggins family and four faith leaders went to Potter's Field on Hart Island to celebrate a memorial for Lewis Haggins, our co-founder.

2005 – Members of the Potter’s Field Campaign made a journey to join St. Benedict Catholic Church on Hart Island for a memorial mass for those who are buried in Potter’s Field. Members of the campaign were unsuccessful gaining access to Hart Island, but the journey was recorded into a moving documentary film.

2005 – Joined Union Theological Seminary's Poverty Initiative to address the International Peace Council about the Potter's Field Campaign and about the inhumanity in which the poor are treated in New York City.

2004 – Inspired an interfaith coalition of faith leaders to form “Interfaith Friends of Potter’s Field to support our work to open Potters Field to interfaith services.

2000 to Present – Convened an annual interfaith service for the homeless deceased on the “Longest Night of the Year, each December 21st at Judson Memorial Church.

past campaigns

past campaigns

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