On the cold evening of December 21st 2022, communities across the country gathered to recognize the thousands of individuals who have passed away on the streets due to homelessness. The Homeless Persons Memorial day is a day of remembrance but also a call to action to combat homelessness. The annual day of recognition is commemorated in over 150 cities across the United States.
In Philadelphia, The Homeless Persons Memorial Day event takes place annually at the Thomas Paine Plaza located in front of the Municipal Services building in center city. For the past 26 years, Philadelphians have come together to recognize those who have lost their lives while homeless or who have experienced homelessness. This year 400 names were recognized.
City representatives such as Mayor Jim Kenney and Councilmember Jamie Gaultier welcomed the congregation and gave their regards to the individuals who have passed away. The heads of various city agencies were able to take part in the reading of names at the memorial. Individuals such as Elizabeth Hersh from the Office of Homeless Services, Eva Gladstein from the Office of Health and Human Services and Dr. Jill Bowen from the Department of Health and Intellectual Disablilty services.
“This is both a memorial service to honor the lives of those we have lost, and it is a time to come together in hope that by working together, we can build a world in which everyone is protected,” Jennine Miller, Director of Advocacy and engagement at Project Home
The theme for this year’s memorial day was hope, health, and healing. The event also brings awareness to other factors that the homeless population deals with on the streets, specifically a focus on the drug epidemic plaguing this vulnerable population.
According to the National Coalitions of Homelessness, the average life expectancy of individuals experiencing homelessness is 50 years of age. An increased mortality rate that is four to nine times of those not experiencing homelessness. Like other cities across the United States, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless services conducts a Point-in-Time (PIT) count. A count that helps identify a number of people experiencing homelessness and where they are located annually. The cities 2022 PIT count, recently conducted in September, showed that over the last 5 years the number of individuals in Philadelphia experiencing homelessness has shrunk by 22%. Meaning the number of families and individuals unsheltered and in shelters went down. But, at the same time the count showed there has been a 14% uptick since 2021 in those experiencing chronic homelessness. Which is composed of those individuals who are consistently unsheltered.
The community partners for this event included Bethesda Project, Broad Street Ministries, Catholic Social Services, Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of Elders (CARIE), The Center Philadelphia , Arch Street United Methodist Church, Project Home and more.