United States

Communities in the U.S. remember homeless people who have died

Each year the Catholic Church along with other Christian denominations organize religious services on December 21 or 22 in the United States in commemoration of people who live or died on the streets.

Gonzalo Meza-December 30, 2023-Reading time: 3 minutes

(Unsplash / Nick Fewings)

In 2023, 1,665 homeless people died on the streets of Los Angeles, California. This figure is only a fraction of the thousands of homeless people who die each year in the country in abandonment and homelessness. They are part of the discarded of which Pope Francis speaks.

According to the organization "Homeless Deaths Count", at least twenty homeless people die every day on the streets of the United States. According to this organization, the number of people without fixed housing has increased since 2017 by 6 %, reaching more than 582 thousand in 2022. Five states concentrate more than 50 % of this segment of the population: California, New York, Florida, Washington and Texas. 

In order not to forget these lives and to highlight their dignity, every year the Catholic Church along with other Christian denominations organize religious services throughout the country on December 21 or 22 to commemorate those who live or died on the streets. The day was not chosen at random. It corresponds to the longest night of the year: the winter solstice. The night represents the most important challenge for the homeless, because not only do they have to face inclement temperatures, but also the dangers that night brings.

Ecumenical religious services organized throughout the country help not only to underline the dignity of every human being, but also to prevent and warn about the phenomenon of homelessness. In 2023, nearly 200 communities organized different services in various cities, including the U.S. capital and the cities of Green Bay, Madison, Orange and Los Angeles, among others. 

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles hosted an interfaith service at the cathedral on December 21. The ceremony was attended by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, as well as civil and religious representatives and leaders from Southern California. During the ceremony, 1,665 candles were lit with the names of the homeless who died in 2023. In this city, far from the glamour and celebrities of Hollywood or the sumptuous beaches, more than 75,000 people live on the streets, a figure that increased dramatically from 2022 to 2023. This reality can be seen with the naked eye when walking or driving on the main avenues, where people can be seen living in tents or in makeshift shelters made of cardboard, plastic or brass. 

Homelessness in the United States is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Among its main causes are the lack of affordable rental housing, the scarcity of government programs, and the lack of permanent shelters where homeless people can go. Added to this is the fact that many homeless people suffer from addictions or mental health problems, and local, municipal and state governments lack the human and financial resources necessary to remedy the problem.

In one of his columns for the archdiocesan newspaper, "Angelus," Bishop Gomez noted: "I am concerned that we are becoming accustomed to seeing this in our city. We cannot accept that the streets of Los Angeles become the permanent residences of our neighbors". Evoking Pope Francis in Laudato SiThe earth is our common home and we all deserve a place we can call 'my home'. For me, the housing crisis is a reminder that in God's creation there is an ecology of the human person and an ecology of the natural environment. God made this earth to be a home for the human family. The goods of creation are meant to be shared, developed and used for the good of all his children."

The Catholic Church in the country, through Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul Association, is one of the largest institutions helping people in need. Throughout its various establishments, these and other Catholic agencies help thousands of people by offering temporary shelter, food and medical assistance.

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