December - 270 people died on our streets in 2018
Philadelphia Homeless Memorial Day 2018
On December 20, Philadelphians came together to honor the 270 people who died on the streets in 2018. Homeless Memorial Day is an annual event that commemorates those who passed due to homelessness and calls for solutions, so no one in America has to live or die on the streets.
For the past 23 years, advocates, friends, and family have joined together to recognize those who have lost their lives while homeless or due to their experience with homelessness in Philadelphia. This year’s memorial included reflections by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, nonprofit leaders, and friends of the deceased.
“This vigil serves as both a solemn occasion for honoring the lives we have lost and a stark reminder of the sheer injustice of homelessness. A reminder that none of us will ever be whole until homelessness is eradicated once and for all. The vigil serves as a unique opportunity to stand in communion with one another and recommit to never, ever accepting homelessness as a problem that can’t be solved, [but] to instead remember that homelessness is a social problem that MUST be solved,” said Brooke Feldman, an advocate for recovery, the President of Sparking Solutions LLC, and a Board Member of Angels in Motion.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Arch Street United Methodist Church for the candle-lit ceremony, and remembrance as each of the 270 names of people we lost were read aloud. Good Shepherd House Choir opened the evening with Barry Martin’s “Celebrate My Life” followed by the Veterans Multi-Service Center’s Retiring of the Colors. The people we honor tonight, Brooke said, “paid the ultimate price for a societal shortcoming.”
Homeless Memorial Day is held in over 150 localities across the United States on or near the first day of winter — together we join as a nation to call for an end to homelessness. One Step Away partnered with street papers across the United States to remember and advocate for the lives we have lost.
“For too many, this will be the only memorial service they will have,” said John Parvensky, president and CEO of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. “Tonight we remember them, we remember them all.”
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that the number of people experiencing homelessness had increased for the first time in seven years. A December study funded by the real estate company Zillow estimated that HUD undercounted the 2017 homeless population by 20 percent, or 115,000 people.
Days before this year’s Homeless Memorial date, HUD released its 2018 data, reporting a modest increase in homelessness for the second year in a row. Based on the HUD data, roughly 1 in every 591 Americans experiences homelessness.
In Philadelphia, every year an estimated 15,000 people —adults and children — utilize our City’s homeless system. With a total occupancy of 11,030 available beds, according to the Office of Homeless Services, many people are turned away from shelter due to capacity. Philadelphia’s 2018 Point-in-Time count (a one night count in January) reported 5,788 individuals experiencing homelessness of whom 1,083 people were unsheltered or on the streets.
Liz Hersh, Director of Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services said: “This City works hard to keep people experiencing homelessness alive. In 2018, we sheltered nearly 9,000 people and provided permanent housing for nearly 6,000. Thanks to Mayor Kenney’s leadership, we have added hundreds of new shelter and long-term places for people. But we have to do more, all of us together, to end homelessness in Philadelphia. The Homeless Memorial reminds us of the terrible price that is paid when we fall short. It is our continued call to action.”
Mortality Rates And Homelessness
Philadelphia’s Homeless Death Review Team (HDRT) began in 2009 with the goal of reducing the number of preventable homeless deaths and improving the health and well-being of people experiencing homelessness. According to HDRT, the average age of death for a person experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia is 49 years versus the 79 years a housed American lives.
Mortality among the homeless population is increased by four to nine times, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), due to unique challenges such as chronic illness, infections, violence, poor mental health, and substance abuse. These types of poor health outcomes are often related to lack of access to stable housing, nutritious foods, transportation, employment, access to quality health care serves and treatment, and health insurance.
In Chicago, Maxica Williams, a single mother with four children was homeless from January to August 2016 because of breast cancer. Homelessness can cause mental and physical illness because a person becomes isolated, loses dignity, and feels they have nowhere to go, said Maxica. Now a representative for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, she urged the congregation to keep fighting to bridge the gaps in services, “to always see the person, not the situation they’re in.” She continued, “housing is a human right,” which helps a homeless person’s dignity and excitement for life.
How to Help
Urge your elected officials to protect housing funding.
Volunteer: On January 23 – 24 (10:30pm-4am) the City of Philadelphia and partners are leading volunteers across Philadelphia to count and survey people living on the streets. Volunteers are vital to this effort. Learn more or register on Project HOME’s website or at bit.ly/PH_PIT2018. The deadline for registration is January 16.
If you see someone who is homeless and needs assistance you can call the Philadelphia Homeless Hotline at 215-232-1984.
Finally, pay attention to “Code Blues”. A Code Blue is enacted during extremely cold conditions, when temperatures feel near or below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. During a Code Blue, the City takes special measures to keep people who are homeless safe. These measures include:
• 24-hour outreach to find people who are homeless and transport them to safe indoor spaces.
• Opening all available beds within the emergency housing network.
• Allowing homeless people to stay inside emergency housing throughout the day.
Article written in collaboration with Denver Voice, Street Roots, StreetWise, and Street Sense. Photos by Ted Goldman from TGoldmanPhotography.com.