Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day in America was established in 1990. December 21, the winter solstice and longest night of the year, has been observed annually since then as a time to remember the people who lost their lives while experiencing homelessness and to strengthen our commitment to helping transient people in our communities to climb out of homelessness.
According to a statement from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council in 2019, “On National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day (HPMD)–commemorated annually since 1990 on or about December 21, the first day of winter and longest night of the year–communities across the country come together to remember those who have died without stable housing, to reflect on the shocking inhumanity of homelessness, and to call for meaningful policy changes to ensure that no life is lived or lost in homelessness.” Since 1990, the homelessness epidemic has only grown, with greater numbers of people living and dying without housing, regardless of continued advocacy on behalf of the homeless population in America.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released Part 1 of its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report in March 2021, as a snapshot of homelessness amongst sheltered and unsheltered transient people. Regarding the increase in homelessness across the country, the report found that over 580,000 people experienced homelessness in America on that single night in 2020, an increase of close to 13,000 people. (This increase of over 2 percent was calculated and compared to the data from 2019.) HUD noted the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well, stating that it has made the homelessness crisis even worse.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the homeless population in more ways than just in terms of health. Many places where transient people could go during the day were forced to close in response to the pandemic. Programs and charities that were able to offer meals in pre-pandemic times have had to limit the number of people they can serve or have been unable to serve meals at all. Homeless shelters can no longer offer accommodations overnight to as many people as they have in the past. Support resources have been discontinued and/or interrupted, and have left people to fend for themselves, though most do not even know where or how to start.
Homelessness can befall anyone at any time in America. People end up in homelessness due to addiction and/or mental health circumstances, joblessness, a lack of affordable housing, limited housing assistance, and poverty in general. It is a crisis that Americans must continue to address to prevent and eventually end homelessness.
Art From the Streets is an Austin-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was established in 1991 to give transient people a way to develop as artists and to use their creativity to climb out of homelessness. Purchasing artwork supports the artists directly. Donating to our program helps us to offer a free Open Studio for the homeless and at risk.