Friday, December 12, 2008

Homeless Persons' Memorial Day

On average a homeless person’s life is 36% shorter than a housed person’s life.

To memorialize homeless people who have lived on the mean streets and have died in the past year, the National Coalition for the Homeless [NCH] has sponsored National Homeless Person's Memorial Day since 1990. This year, National Heath Care for the Homeless Council [NHCHC] will join NCH as a co-sponsor for the holiday and events that will take place nationwide. The date for the memorial day, this year, is December 21st. Every year Homeless Persons' Memorial Day is on the date of the winter solstice, when daylight is at its minimum and night lasts the longest.

The leading causes of death for homeless people are preventable and treatable. Regrettably, well documented barriers block homeless persons’ access to health care.

Life is both tough and short out on the streets. According to a study in Los Angeles county, done between January 2000 and May 2007, being homeless drastically reduces one's life expectancy. According to the executive summary of the report, based on statistics provided by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office: "The 2,815 homeless people in our study were expected to live 211,878 years based on the average life expectancy of their gender and ethnicity. They only survived 135,528 of those expected years. In other words, their lives were cut short by 76,350 years. On average a homeless person’s life is 36% shorter than a housed person’s life. For homeless Latina females, their lives were 49% shorter than expected."

Also, the study reported this startling fact: "[T]he average age of death was 48.1 years, falling far short of the 77.2 year life expectancy of the average American." In the policy-recommendation section, we are told, "The leading causes [of] death reported here are preventable and treatable. Regrettably, well documented barriers – chiefly lack of health insurance or ability to pay – continue to block homeless persons’ access to care."

Policy recommendations of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, resulting from the study, are these:
  • Increase access to Primary and Preventive Care
  • Support overdose prevention programs
  • Promote recovery
  • Improved discharge planning
  • Regional priority to end and prevent homelessness through creating permanent housing
  • Increase economic stability [of homeless people]
Unlike other large metropolis areas in the country, Greater Sacramento has not had activities commemorating Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. However, in Loaves & Fishes' Friendship Park there is a commemorative pool, in the back of which the names of homeless Sacramentans who have died are engraved. Ceremonies to commemorate and celebrate the recently deceased homeless are held in an area in front of the pool.

At Sacramento county's Primary Care Services website they recently posted this year's poster for the holiday. Near the bottom of the poster, there is a lit candle. At the top it says "Homeless Persons' Memorial Day." Strewn throughout the poster are these statements:
  • Homeless people die from illnesses that affect everyone, frequently without health care.
  • Homeless people die from exposure, unprotected from the heat and cold.
  • Homeless people die from violence, often in unprovoked hate crimes.
  • Health care is a human right.
  • Housing is a human right.
  • Remember our neighbors and friends who have died without homes.
  • Physical safety is a human right.
  • Remember why they died.
  • DECEMBER 21 The first day of winter. The longest night of the year.

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