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

81 comments

Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson3 months ago

Thank you!

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Jack Y
Jack Y4 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y4 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J4 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J4 months ago

thanks for sharing

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DAVID fleming
Dave f4 months ago

TY

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DAVID f
Dave f6 months ago

Thanks

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DAVID fleming
Dave f7 months ago

Thanks for the info

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Jaime J
Jaime J7 months ago

Thank you!!

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