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Remembering those lost to Homelessness

Written by admin on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Hate Crimes, Mortality, Violence Against the Homeless

For nearly three decades, advocates for people experiencing homelessness nationwide have taken one day out of the year to remember those who have passed due to the trauma of homelessness. Symbolically commemorated on December 21st, the winter solstice and longest night of the year, National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day serves as a reminder of the daily violence experienced by those who are without permanent housing.

Every year, we mourn those we have lost and bemoan persistent homelessness that does not seem to be getting better. DC memorialWe have lost so many of our neighbors due to violence perpetrated by those who see people experiencing homelessness as less than human, or the structural violence that exacerbates easily preventable disease or shortens life expectancy by 20-30 years. I remember my fellow AmeriCorps volunteer and colleague Jesse, whose heart gave out after only a handful of years off the streets. I remember Cliff, the talented photographer and vegetarian, conscripted to eating American cheese sandwiches in the shelter, even as his health failed due to cancer. These, and so many others, were our friends, our colleagues, our family members, who became victims of a lack of affordable housing.

The fact remains that a lack of housing is unhealthy, traumatizing and significantly shortens an individual’s life expectancy. People who experience homelessness have an average life expectancy of around 50 years of age, almost 20 years lower than housed populations. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that people experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of infectious and chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse

They are also more susceptible to violence once experiencing homelessness, a fact confirmed by over 20 years of reports on bias-motivated crimes against people experiencing homelessness showing 1,769 reported acts of violence against people experiencing homelessness, 476 of which were lethal.

In 2017, there were 22 cities that reported the number of people experience homelessness who lost their lives without a place to call home. Out of those cities that reported, 2,525 homeless community members passed away. Consulting reports about deaths of people experiencing homelessness in 2016, we estimate that at least 13,000 people pass away each year while without housing.

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.

We invite all of you to register your Memorial Day events at https://nationalhomeless.org. If you are not able to host your own event, please participate in a nearby event to memorialize our fallen community members that passed away without the dignity to have a place to call home. Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day is co-sponsored by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and the National Coalition for the Homeless.

The dangers of cold weather

Written by admin on . Posted in Awareness, Mortality, Prevention

Infographic on when emergency shelter opens during cold weatherExtreme cold weather has touched just about every region in the country this winter. Snow, ice and below normal temperatures have caused traffic jams and school closings, but many communities have also been opening additional shelter for those who have no other place to stay warm.

Each year, as winter approaches and the temperature begins to drop, many homeless people move from the streets to their city’s shelter system to escape the cold. However, few communities have city-wide cold-weather response plans, and many of the plans currently in place leave gaping holes in accessibility.

In rural areas, shelters often have no outside resources to help them cope with the increased demand caused by cold weather conditions. Many shelters or cities offer expanded winter services only during certain months or only when the temperature falls below a pre-determined and arbitrary cut-off temperature. Above those cut-offs (hypothermia can occur in weather as warm as 50 degrees Fahrenheit) many cities do not offer resources to help the homeless people escape from the cold.

Without a carefully constructed winter plan, homeless service facilities may find themselves unable to accommodate the influx of residents, and some of those people who seek shelter are turned out into the cold. With nowhere to stay except the streets, people experiencing homelessness have a much higher risk than the general population of developing exposure-related conditions such as hypothermia and frostbite. These conditions can be immediately life threatening and may also increase the risk of dying from unrelated conditions in the future. Increased homeless services, especially additional shelter availability, are necessary to accommodate the amplified need in the winter.

  • Read more about hypothermia and how we can prevent unnecessary homeless deaths in our Winter Services Report >>
  • Share this infographic about how cities respond to the increased needs of people experiencing homelessness during cold weather >>

 

Going Up, Going Down

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

Though every year communities understand that cold weather brings increased risk of illness and even death among those who do not have safe and permanent warm residence, it seems there is more contention about the opening of emergency winter shelters this year.  For that matter, it seems like there is ever more contention about the placement or even opening of emergency shelter beds, even as demand for emergency shelter is increasing.  Recent news stories show the number of people experiencing homelessness is:

Going Up

While the number of emergency shelter beds is not increasing with the need:

Going Down

The discussion that communities are having around opening emergency winter shelters for increased numbers of families and individuals they expect to need housing this winter could easily be shortened by providing that elusive solution to homelessness: housing.  The Obama Administration helped a great deal by providing permanent housing solutions through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.  But funds for programs like the Homeless Prevention and Rapid-Rehousing program are running out this year.  Our challenge remains to provide long-term housing solutions, while providing for the safety of families and individuals who have no place to call home tonight.

Lots of communities are providing these long-term solutions, like the 100,000 Homes Campaign, along with other programs dedicating new sources of permanent housing and working as a community to provide the services people need.  But the challenge still remains, how can we use what little funding is available to provide permanent and preventative solutions to homelessness, while ensuring that everyone who is homeless tonight has at least a warm bed and roof over their heads?

YOUR concern for your homeless neighbors, or advocacy for the homelessness YOU may be experiencing, is more critical that it has ever been.  Make homelessness a topic of regular conversation!  Talk to your family, friends, neighbors and legislators about the need for housing solutions now.  Let’s not sit by while families, brothers, daughters, parents freeze on our streets this winter.

Keep learning at www.nationalhomeless.org.

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