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Posts Tagged ‘Memorial’

For 2021, Shine a Bright Light on the Dark Truth About Homelessness

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

A year-end reflection from Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, and Donald Whitehead Jr., Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless

Thirty years ago, the truth that homelessness is not inevitable led to the first Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, held each year on December 21 — the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. The observance of Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, which is now held in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and other nations, began through a partnership of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and the National Coalition for the Homeless with three objectives: 1) to shine a bright light on the dark truth that homelessness kills; 2) to ensure that those who died are not forgotten; and 3) to mobilize action to end what is often a death sentence — homelessness.

For too many people experiencing homelessness, each commemoration may be their last. Thousands of Americans experiencing homelessness die prematurely and unnecessarily in the world’s richest nation. Communities of color, especially African American and Native American populations, experience homelessness and die at disproportionate rates from this painful and persistent reality. In 2020, Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day was marked by the twin hopes of defeating a worldwide pandemic and achieving a more perfect union in the U.S. with racial justice that is long overdue. 

A public policy change from 40 years ago was largely responsible for creating the present-day scale of homelessness — and different public policies can end it. The rise in homelessness coincides with cutting more than three-quarters of the federal funding between 1979 and 1982 that makes housing affordable for poor people. The budget cuts were not a matter of the country not being able to afford the subsidies, but of ideology. We know this because at around the same time, federal subsidies for homeownership — which overwhelmingly go to the wealthy — increased dramatically, to the point where they now are six times greater than rental subsidies for the poor. This shift in priorities proved to be, quite literally, a death sentence for the most vulnerable.

Society measures what society treasures, and that unfortunately does not always include people experiencing homelessness. We do not know the number of people who die without a home because only a few localities conduct a systematic count. Thanks to two cities that do systematically count homeless deaths, we know they have increased substantially. In New York City, homeless deaths grew by more than 50 percent between 2008 and 2018, and in Los Angeles County, homeless deaths doubled between 2014 and 2019. Several organizations have worked together to create a Homeless Mortality Toolkit to encourage and equip more cities and counties to measure the true scope of the problem and to design interventions that work. We should count our neighbors without homes because people without homes count.

Throughout 2020, COVID-19 taught us an indisputable fact: housing is health care. The critical link between housing and health was further underscored when the Centers for Disease Control issued a moratorium on evictions. The moratorium, which had been slated to end on December 31, has been extended until January 31. If the moratorium ends, almost five million households will be at risk of eviction. If that happens, one study estimates these evictions would cause an additional 10,700 excess deaths nationally.

Homeless deaths are not inevitable. The President-Elect is the first in 40 years to propose that funding for affordable housing be available at a level where every qualifying household receives rental subsidies. That means we need to be speaking up. Urge your public officials to end the national shame of homelessness now.

Let the 2020 Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day be our last.

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.

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