People who are homeless are at an increased risk of premature death. With no regular access to healthy food, warm clothing, safe shelter, and reliable healthcare, people who live on the streets are in jeopardy of dying from both violent and natural causes. With the homelessness rate in the U.S. on the rise, it can be difficult for the public to keep track of the homeless individuals who die with no one left to bury or remember them. Many cities are honoring those individuals by holding an annual Homeless Memorial Day.
What is Homeless Memorial Day?
Unlike Memorial Day that is held in May, Homeless Memorial Day is held in December on the night of the Winter Solstice, also the longest night of the year. As the sun sets early on the evening of December 21, cities that mark this somber occasion host marches across their neighborhoods and invite people to walk while holding signs of the homeless people who died that year.
This march hits many of the marchers hard as a large number of them are formerly homeless themselves. Some of the marchers experienced homelessness firsthand and were saved by the mercy of their communities and advocates who helped them secure housing and jobs.
While they are the fortunate few who were able to raise themselves out of homelessness, many others cannot for one reason or another follow in their footsteps to security. Instead, they are relegated to living on the fringes of society and on the very streets themselves, sometimes dying without anyone to care about or remember their names. They are remembered increasingly through events like the Homeless Memorial Day held on December 21 each year.
While the march and memorial are held yearly, organizers and marchers hope that it will increase people’s resolve to end homelessness around the country. The march serves to inspire community leaders to raise funds and resources to help house the homeless in their own cities.
The Realities of U.S. Homelessness
While many people readily dismiss homelessness as a problem that could not impact their own lives, they fail to realize that the very people whom they are ready to ignore once enjoyed the presumed level of security and livelihood they have now. Statistics show that while homelessness is on the rise in the U.S., the fastest growing number of homeless people are single women and children. Factors like divorce, unemployment, and domestic violence force women and children out of their homes and onto the street.
Likewise, statistics also show that more than eight percent of the homelessness population in the U.S. today include military veterans. Factors like PTSD, divorce, drug use, and depression make it difficult for these veterans to hold jobs and maintain steady livelihoods. They have no other recourse than to live on the street, sometimes dying without the honors entitled to them as veterans.
The realities could be easily forgotten were it not for events like Homeless Memorial Day. The signs being hoisted in the air during the Homeless Memorial Day marches are emblazoned with the names of veterans, mothers, children, and others who died without the comfort or security that many people today take for granted.
Where Do We Go from Here?
It may be easy for people to think that they or anyone they love and know will be homeless. However, statistics show that homelessness is on the rise in the U.S. and now includes people who were once employed and relatively secure in life. Those who have no choice but to live on the streets are at an increased risk of dying from violence or health problems. Their names are remembered with the annual Homeless Memorial Day in December.
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