Good Samaritan Ministries, The Friendship Center, United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area, and YWCA Helena will host service remembering those who have died while experiencing homelessness.
(HELENA, Mont., Dec. 14, 2023) – The Longest Night Memorial Service will be held at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, December 21, at Women’s Park. The service remembers those who have died while experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
Helena will join hundreds of cities across the United States in memorializing those lost this year, coinciding with the longest night of the year. These memorial services illustrate the conditions that led to these deaths, reduce stigma, and bring attention to the preventable tragedy of homeless deaths. Good Samaritan Ministries, The Friendship Center, United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area, and YWCA Helena have come together to organize the service to recognize the impact of the issue and those who have been lost as a result.
“Our community continues to lack sufficient emergency shelter space as well as safe and affordable housing. It is a gap that has resulted in the death of several people this year,” said Gina Boesdorfer, Executive Director of The Friendship Center.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 1,585 people in Montana were homeless on any given night in 2022, an increase from 1,168 in 2021. Being homeless or unstably housed is devastating and, unfortunately, can be fatal.
“Any life lost is too many. This number should be zero. We need to find a way to make sure people are safe,” said Emily McVey, Executive Director of United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area.
Living without housing increases people’s risks and vulnerabilities in many ways, not just the risk of exposure to natural elements. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, people who are homeless have higher rates of illness and die an average 12 years sooner than the general U.S. population. In addition, people who lack secure housing often have difficulty accessing health care, creating long-term negative health impacts.
People experiencing homelessness are also at an increased risk of victimization and violence. One academic study revealed that nearly one-half of the sample reported experiencing violence and that prolonged duration of homelessness (greater than 2 years) and being older increased the risk of experiencing a violent attack. Gender-specific violence specifically increases in women experiencing homelessness.
The Institute for the Prevention of Crime reports that “compared to the housed, homeless people have more often been the victims of physical and sexual abuse as children and victims of family violence and spousal assault as adults. Those without adequate shelter are more likely than the housed to be victims of violence and, for women, victims of sexual assault.”
Jenifer Gursky, Executive Director of YWCA Helena, notes that there is a significant lack of supportive housing for women experiencing homelessness and a greater need for services that address trauma and abuse cycles experienced by women as children.
While agencies in Helena are available to help those who have experienced violence on our streets and connect our homeless population with resources, local safe shelter capacity is limited and often full. Even those who do not need emergency shelter are experiencing escalated costs and barriers to housing. As High Country News reported in November 2023, Lewis and Clark County’s average rent grew 37% between 2020 and 2022, ranking fifth among all U.S. counties for two-year rent growth since 2020.
“This is an opportunity to honor the lives that were lost this last year and reaffirm our commitment to our community and to choose a community where no one is at risk of dying from homelessness or housing insecurity,” said Theresa Ortega, Executive Director of Good Samaritan Ministries.
This year’s memorial service will be followed by community-provided soup and rolls.
About The Friendship Center
Founded in 1971, The Friendship Center is the community resource for addressing and preventing domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking through advocacy, education, and outreach in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, and Jefferson counties. Learn more at thefriendshipcenter.org.
Gina Boesdorfer, Executive Director (406) 442-6800