National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day

Hand lighting candles

National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day remembers those who have died as a result of being homeless, and raises awareness of the risks associated with homelessness.

Homeless Persons’ Memorial Dayexternal icon (HPMD) events held around the United States on or around the 21st day of December honor those who have died because they did not have shelter. They also serve as reminders of the hardships and risks people who are homeless may experience.

Compared to the general population, people who experience homelessness are at greater risk of infectious and chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse. They are also more often victims of violence, prior to and once homeless. Homeless persons also have a mortality rate four to nine times higher than those who are not homeless.  With an estimated 39.7 million Americans living in poverty, 19 million experiencing housing insecurity, and 27.3 million without health insurance, the risk of homelessness and poor health is a concern for 1 out of 8 Americans.

Logo: Public Health and Homelessness Brand
Homelessness can have a severe impact on people’s health and lives.

According to the last Annual Homeless Assessment Report pdf icon[13.8 MB]external icon to Congress, which is a Point-In-Time (PIT) estimate of the number of sheltered and unsheltered persons in the United States, 553,742 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2017.  This number translated to a U.S. homeless rate of 17/10,000, where 33 percent of those homeless were families with children, and within those families, 59% were children under 18 years of age. The estimates from 2016 pdf icon[33.7 MB]external icon to 2017 pdf icon[13.8 MB]external icon showed increases in some areas (e.g., unsheltered homelessness and in major cities) and decreases in other areas (e.g., families with children). The 2017 PIT also served as the baseline year for estimating homeless unaccompanied youth under the age of 25 and on their own. An estimated 40,799 unaccompanied youth experienced homelessness; most (88%) were between the ages of 18 to 24 years and living unsheltered (55%).

The causes of homelessness are complex. Addressing the causes and finding solutions will take collective and consistent efforts. CDC contributes by working to provide accurate and accessible health information that can be used to improve the health, well-being, and safety of people who experience homelessness, as well as those on the front lines of assistance.

Poverty and lack of housing are significant determinants of health. Observances of HPMD are reminders of the loss that occurs when homelessness is addressed inadequately.  Consult local resources for more information on HPMD observance events.  For those interested in organizing an HPMD event, an Organizing Manual pdf icon[1.17 MB]external icon for HPMD was collaboratively developed by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, National Coalition for the Homeless, and National Consumer Advisory Board.

Page last reviewed: December 14, 2017