For homeless Americans, Dec. 21 is the longest night of the year
Saturday, Dec. 21 is the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. It is also the day that many affordable housing advocates have chosen to remember the many homeless people who die each year.
Sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless, the National Consumer Advisory Board and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day has been commemorated for nearly three decades now.
No one knows precisely how many homeless people die each year; cities and states are not required to report that information. But the National Coalition for the Homeless in 2016 estimated that 13,000 people a year die without a roof over their head. People who experience homelessness have an average life expectancy of around 50 years of age, almost 20 years lower than housed populations. And the Centers for Disease Control states that people experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of infectious and chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse.
This year, dozens of communities either have held events earlier this week, or will do so this Saturday. Events include vigils, religious services, graveside services, silent marches, plays and public performances, and public policy advocacy events. To find out whether a community near you is hosting an event, click here.
“Homelessness is the most extreme expression of structural housing poverty. This form of extreme poverty hasn’t always existed at the levels we see today, and doesn’t have to be a permanent state in all of our communities. We need to invest in our shared humanity through investment in publicly affordable housing. We need to build healthier and more compassionate communities that ensure all residents’ basic human needs are met. May this Memorial Day be a reminder to all of us that working together, we can build our housing infrastructure, and reinforce our safety net of food, cash, medical and housing assistance, so we don’t lose another brother and sister to the streets.”