Try Not to Die a Pauper in New York

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It is not uncommon, in this day and age, for a person to die without any financial assets or living family members. So what happens to the body? The answer to this differs from city to city and from state to state. It is preferred that a family member or another adult claim the body within 72 hours. But, if there isn’t a family member or a dear friend, what happens? Some cities offer a proper burial while others show little concern for the burial of the diseased. Two examples are New York City and Seattle.

New York Buries The Less Fortunate
If you die without family or friends in New York City your body is sent to an island off the shores of the Bronx. It is a place you can only reach by ferry. Those diseased without family or friends are sent to Hart Island. This is a 130-acres scrap of land. It is believed that as many as one million people have been buried here. Some are victims of yellow fever, others suffered from HIV, some had mental illnesses and there are those who lived in poverty and were homeless.

Burial Is Not What We Expect
Convicts imprisoned at Rikers Island take care of the burial process. They handle around 1,500 bodies each year. The bodies are put in wooden coffins in unmarked graves. These are not individual graves but unmarked mass graves. The burials are usually performed once a week. Some people believe the entire scene is performed behind the grimy shield of bureaucracy. They believe that little concern is given to the social expectations. The bodies are not cremated as they are in other cities. This is because they may need to be exhumed for evidence in some cold case. But, how can they be exhumed when the body is in an unmarked mass grave?

Women In Black
In Seattle, the contrast is stark to the burials in New York. A group named Women in Black, part of an advocacy group has held sidewalk vigils for each person who dies while living on the streets. It is a spiritual thing as well as a rallying cry. One member, a former homeless person, Carol Cameron, said, “There are so many more homeless people now. Alive or dead, homeless people do matter.” Seattle has about 150 to 200 homeless people who die during the year. Their bodies are cremated and the remains are interred in a plot at a local cemetery.

Isn’t There A Better Way To Bury The Poor?
Burial of the poor, in New York City, is appalling. On the other hand, it seems like the city of Seattle has the answer for a more humane way to bury the indigent. The homeless seem to be the largest group of people who cannot afford a proper burial. It seems like our country, one of the most prosperous in the world can find a way to give a dead, destitute person a burial that is more humane then sticking their body in a wooden box and putting the box in an unmarked mass grave.