A Reflection on National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day

A Reflection on National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day

As a social worker, you fill out a lot of forms, and ask a lot of questions. “What’s your date of birth?” “Any allergies?” Questions that we all have an answer to… But for too many people I’ve served, the one question they couldn’t answer was “What’s your address”…

On December 21st, we recognize National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have died during the year while unhoused –  living in shelters or outside, in transitional housing, or in camps or other places not meant for habitation. We mourn those who died without a place to call home.

Homelessness takes a toll on those who are living it, and for too many, it can be fatal. Trauma and violence, accidents, and suicide are regular causes of death among people experiencing homelessness.[1] Common disorders like COPD, high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma all become harder to manage and more dangerous for those living outside, or in places that aren’t meant to be lived in. On average, an individual in homelessness may die nearly 20 years sooner than their housed counterpart.[2] Over the years I’ve lost too many clients to count, and it still breaks my heart to think how many of them could have had five, or ten, or even just ONE more year if we could have gotten them inside.

Everyone deserves a place to call home, and for many, it can literally mean the difference between life and death. On December 21st, the longest night of the year, we encourage you to take a moment and honor those we lost this year who died without a safe place to call their own. Those whose families may never know they are gone, and those who may have no one else to mourn them. We also encourage you to renew your commitment to ending homelessness. No one deserves to die alone in the cold, especially not in a country with the capacity and the compassion and the resources to make a difference.

-Mary Shannon Thomas, Senior Director of Programs

[1] National Health Care for the Homeless, “National Homeless Mortality Overview, 2020”  https://nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Section-1-Toolkit.pdf

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5739436/#:~:text=Results,9.85)%20of%20a%20homeless%20female.

Tonight, there are 1,442 people in Heading Home programs.