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Atlanta's homeless dead remembered

ATLANTA - He battled alcoholism and years on the streets until, with the help of a local shelter, Russell Pink found a place to call home.

A year after Sam Rush saw him out the doors of the shelter at Peachtree and Pine Streets, she held a cross bearing his name - one of 54 homeless and formerly homeless men and women who died in Atlanta during the past year.

The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless memorialized each of them outside City Hall on Monday, its 20th annual Homeless Memorial Day.

Activists and homeless marched down Peachtree Street singing 'I'm climbing up' and hoisting signs calling housing a human right. The marchers gathered outside City Hall where they prayed for the fallen men and women and laid crosses on the front lawn.

Task Force executive director Anita Beaty and others attended a City Council meeting where they urged leaders to halt evictions from foreclosed rental properties and public housing units scheduled for demolition.

Activists say such evictions are increasing the number of homeless, even as across the state, overwhelmed shelters struggle to find space for families.

Gateway Center in downtown Atlanta, for instance, is making space for an extra 200 women and children sleeping in its lobby nightly. Beaty's shelter is serving up to 1,000 at a time.

The alternative - a night on the street - can be deadly.

Nationally, 160 homeless persons were violently attacked in 2007, 28 of them lethally, according to data from the National Coalition for the Homeless. Incidents included beatings and worse: Nine homeless people were set on fire last year.

Dawson said homeless people often are too ashamed to be in contact with their families. It leaves friends and shelter workers who may have known them for years to sort out what happened in their final moments, and remember their lives.

Rush gripped a roughhewn cross against her chest Monday. As the pastor prayed, she said her goodbyes.