USICH Director’s Remarks on Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day

December 21, 2022
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Today, USICH Executive Director Jeff Olivet provided remarks at a Homeless Persons' Memorial Day event at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

People who experience homelessness die nearly 30 years earlier than the average American and at the average age that Americans died in 1900.

Read his full remarks:

“For anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere, tonight will be the longest night of the year. For people in Anchorage, that means 18 hours and 32 minutes of darkness. In Denver, 14 hours 39 minutes. In Atlanta, 14 hours 6 minutes. And here in Washington, D.C., 14 hours and 34 minutes of darkness.

Some people will wake up tomorrow and complain that the sky outside their window is still dark. Some will carp about the cold and pine for longer days with more sun. But the night will be longest, it will be coldest, it will be darkest for those living without a home.

Each year on this day, we gather to remember those we have lost. Here in Washington, at least 77 people without homes died in the last year. As we speak their names, we must hold them in our memories. They were brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends. As we speak their names, we must also remember the tens of thousands across the country who died without a home this year.

They died of treatable illnesses. They died of preventable overdoses. They died of violence that did not need to happen, and, indeed, would not have happened if they had been in the safety of their own homes.

It does not have to be this way. We can do better.

I can imagine a time when the days are longer and the sun is brighter. I can imagine a day when we have enough affordable housing to go around—where we are no longer playing musical chairs with people’s lives to get into those units. I can imagine a day when we have enough mental health and substance use treatment for all who need it. I can imagine a day when we help people stay in housing, so they don’t have to become homeless to get the support they need. I can imagine a day when, even if a family is in crisis, they have a safe, dignified place to go as they get back on their feet.

And I can imagine a day when, on the longest night of the year, we don’t have to read any more names.”

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