Who Cares for the Homeless When They Die?

In the United States, around 700 homeless people die from exposure every year — largely due to undependable shelter access.

But after they die, what happens? Who organizes funerals for the homeless, and, perhaps most importantly, who remembers these individuals?

National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day is December 21, the longest night of the year. As communities remember their homeless neighbors, it’s important to keep their lives – and deaths – in mind the other 364 days of the year too.

When people die on the streets, in particular, the process that follows can be unceremonious. The specifics vary from city to city, but Funerals.net gives a good overview.

If no one is available to claim a loved one’s remains, they’re typically cremated within a month. And if their ashes aren’t claimed in four years, they get a mass burial. Others may be buried in indigent cemeteries, which often lack clear markings and regular maintenance.

In Europe, donating remains to medical schools is common, but the legality of this practice can get hairy in the U.S. Scientists often need the body of someone who just died, but many areas require the corpse to be kept for a few months in the hope that a relative or friend will claim it.

And then there’s the issue of a funeral.

The average funeral costs about $10,000. This simply isn’t a possibility for those without money or family. Some churches and community organizations try their best to organize services for those without reachable friends or family.

“I think that’s what a civilized people does,” Episcopal priest and 100,000 Homes Campaign organizer Linda Kaufman told ThinkProgress a few years back. “Somebody rejoiced when this kid was born. I think it’s really important that their life and death be memorialized, whether it’s with 50 people or three people.”

As an Invisible People blogger notes, no one deserves to die because of homelessness in the first place. But as we work to provide homeless people with homes and try to make their lives a little easier in the meantime, making sure they have something to mark their lives is the least we can do.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has some helpful tips for getting involved on December 21. Whether you organize an event or attend one, you’ll be doing your part to make sure nobody’s forgotten.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

73 comments

DAVID fleming
DAVID fleming5 days ago

Thanks for the info

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Jaime J
Jaime J8 days ago

Thank you!!

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Danuta W
Danuta W11 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Janis K
Janis K11 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Jim V
Jim V13 days ago

thank you.

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Jim V
Jim V13 days ago

thank you.

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Jerome S
Jerome S13 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S13 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S14 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S14 days ago

thanks

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