17 Helena residents passed away in 2022 due to chronic homelessness and being unsheltered.
On average, 20 people experiencing homelessness die every day in the United States. However, this number is only counted from data that is intentionally collected and provided to organizations who seek out this information. The U.S. Government does not officially record the number of people who die while experiencing homelessness because they no longer have a housing status. The statistic of total deaths range between 5,800 to 46,500 people. It is a gaping hole of information we will never know.
Homelessness includes those who are sheltered with no permanent housing and those who are unsheltered. Montana has started to see more sheltered and unsheltered individuals as the cost-of-living rises, average pay remains the same, and funding for services that support housing costs run out (such as MERA- Montana Emergency Rental Assistance). MERA helped a total 13,291 households, 8,000 with housing stability support, 3,177 assisted with eviction notices and an average pay of $9,152 to households. As of March 24, MERA could no longer accept further applications due to the loss of funding. There has been an influx of evictions and homelessness since the end of MERA funding and will most likely continue to rise as the year continues.
As far as the disparities within the homeless populations, the history of discriminatory housing practices and laws still impacts populations based on their race. According to the 2022 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress (created by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), one of their key findings from their assessment is a continuance of overrepresentation of Black/African Americans and Indigenous (Native Americans and Pacific Islanders) populations experiencing homelessness. There is also a significant overrepresentation of people with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness. It is believed that anywhere between 40%-60% of people who are homeless also have a disability.
What can we do to prevent 1 less person’s name from being read out loud at this year’s Longest Night Memorial? To prevent 1 more family losing their home? In a community this small, every voice counts.