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National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day

During the 2013 Point-in-Time (PIT) estimate, over 610,000 people were homeless in the U.S. Over a third (215,344) of the homeless persons identified during the PIT were living unsheltered.1 Almost one-fourth (23%) of the homeless were children younger than 18 years of age and 65% were living in emergency shelters or in transitional housing programs.1 Despite the economic challenges of recent years, homelessness has declined by 9% since 2007, with the great proportion of change occurring among unsheltered homeless (23% decline).1 The collective work of diverse volunteers, advocates, organizations,1 and governmental agencies1-2 have contributed to the declines in homelessness. However, these efforts, and those that provide direct assistance to people and families affected by homelessness, need ongoing support.

People who are homeless are at greater risk of infectious and chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse, as well as being victims of violence, compared to the general population. In addition, the mortality rate for those experiencing chronic homelessness is four to nine times higher than for the general population. In one literature review, the life expectancy for people who are homeless was reported to be approximately 45 years.3

Photo: A person sleeping on a park bench.Since 1990, during the longest night of the year, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), National Consumer Advisory Board (NCAB), and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) co-sponsored National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. Events coordinated around this annual memoriam raises awareness of the tragic nature of homelessness, and its impact on communities, as well as people whose deaths were attributed to homelessness.4

The lack of stable housing and access to supportive services are at the core of homelessness. The challenges that precipitate and often worsen during the course of homelessness can affect anyone. Addressing the public health needs of the homeless population requires collaborative and integrated efforts with partners and communities. Federal agencies are working to identify ways we can improve [PDF - 3.2MB] the lives of people affected by homelessness. CDC contributes by working to improve the spectrum of factors and environments that determine available choices for healthy living for everyone. There is much that we can do to improve the health of homeless individuals and families.

This is the time of year when people reflect, and share thoughts and deeds of gratitude. On December 21, 2013, as we approach the close and the beginning of another year, support and join others in acknowledging the lives of those who were lost, and consider how else we all can contribute to ending homelessness. We also hope you will take time to learn more about this public health concern. Please check out the links below for more information.

More Information

National Organizations for the Homeless

Federal Resources on Homelessness

CDC Web Resources

Icon: Homeless Shelter

CDC Audio Podcasts on Homelessness

  1. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress: Point-in-Time estimates of homelessness. [PDF - 3.22MB]. Accessed December 9, 2013.
  2. U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Accessed December 9, 2013.
  3. O'Connell, J. (2005). Premature mortality in homeless populations: A review of the literature. Nashville: National Health Care for the Homeless Council, Inc.
  4. Morrison, DS. Homelessness as an independent risk factor for mortality: results from a retrospective cohort study. Inter J of Epidemiology. 2009; 38: 877–883.