Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress which stated that on a single night in 2018, approximately 552,830 individuals across the country were identified as experiencing homelessness, a 0.3 percent increase from the previous year.
Sadly, with the surmounting rise in housing costs over the last few years, homelessness continues to affect our community and the nation. Studies have shown that people who experience homelessness are at greater risk than the general population of infectious and chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance use. They are also more often victims of violence, prior to and once homeless. Additionally, homeless persons have a mortality rate four to nine times higher than those who are housed. With an estimated 40 million Americans living in poverty, 19 million experiencing housing insecurity, and 28 million without health insurance, the risk of homelessness and poor health is a concern for 1 out of 8 Americans.
On December 21, 2018, The Gulf Coast Partnership, community service providers, residents, friends and loved ones, came together at the Bayfront YMCA in Punta Gorda in honor of those homeless and formerly homeless Charlotte County residents who passed away during 2018. Charlotte County’s Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day Vigil is an annual event observed across the Nation that first began in 1990. The 2018 vigil continued to build on the theme of Remembrance, Hope, and Healing, while honoring the lives and dreams of some of our most vulnerable community members.
Officially recognized in a proclamation signed by Charlotte County’s Board of County Commissioners in 2007, the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day Vigil provides an opportunity for our community to come together each year on the night of the Winter Solstice, the longest and oftentimes, coldest night of the year to acknowledge, honor, and remember the precious lives we have lost to homelessness; while reinforcing our continued efforts to prevent and end homelessness in Charlotte County. Fourteen homeless and formerly homeless individuals were lost this year, a significant increase from seven in 2017.
The Gulf Coast Partnership continues to work diligently to raise awareness and combat the many issues surrounding homelessness in our community. We would like to thank everyone who made this year’s Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day Vigil possible: Sky YMCA, The City of Punta Gorda, Charlotte County Human Services, LTM Party Store, Gladrich Florist, Publix, Charlotte County Health Department, Virginia B. Andes, Jesus Loves You Ministry, Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, The Salvation Army Family Store, Dunkin Donuts, The Menzer Family, Alecia Cunningham, The McLaughlin Family, John and Ginny Baily, Myra Jo Fiory, Mackenzie Carignan, Tito Guiterrez, The Wallace Family, Donna Smith, Mary Mahshie, The Carter Family, The Hogan Family, Tracy Hille, Suzanne Roberts, Sarah Adams-Glover, Ryky Legg, Sylvia Jackson-Taylor, Lisa Schmoldt, Miranda Balliet, Ashley Polk, The Charlotte Sun, Gulf Coast Live and WGCU.