One of the most beautiful and poignant activities of the holiday season in Billings will be held at noon on Monday, Dec. 21 when RiverStone Health Healthcare for the Homeless encourages the community to join in a candlelight vigil to remember homeless persons who have died.

Next Monday's ceremony, which will be held on the Yellowstone County Courthouse Lawn, will mark the 22nd year the community has paid special homage to the community's deceased homeless.

The vigil takes place on the first day of winter, the longest night of the year. Those who attend the ceremony are asked to bring a donation of warmth. Donations of new socks, mittens, gloves, hats and scarves, of any size or color, will be given to homeless persons in our community. Men’s sizes are typically in short supply, said Donna Healy, communications projects specialist for RiverStone Health.

Homeless Person's Memorial Day
Donna Healy, RiverStone Health

Homelessness dramatically increases a person’s risk of illness, injury or death. Through RiverStone Health’s Healthcare for the Homeless, more than 1,300 individuals received medical services at shelters and various other locations around Billings in 2014, according to Healy.

No one has exact numbers on the homeless in our community. The Montana Homeless Survey attempts to count those who are homeless on a single night in late January to offer a snapshot of the situation. On that January night in 2015, a total of 1,247 individuals statewide were identified as homeless and half of them said they slept outside. In District 7, a region that includes Yellowstone County along with Carbon, Big Horn, Stillwater and Sweet Grass counties, 167 individuals were counted as homeless. Of those, 85 slept outside. Sixty-three of those individuals reported having mental health and or substance abuse problems.

“The Homeless Survey tries to count people sleeping outside, staying in homeless shelters or living in transitional housing,” said Clarence Salley with RiverStone Health Healthcare for the Homeless. “It doesn’t count the largely invisible segment of the homeless population who are temporarily staying with relatives or friends, living in low-cost motels, sleeping in their cars or couch-surfing from one place to the next. A lot more people in our community are struggling than the most visible portion of the homeless population. ”

The candlelight vigil offers a way to remember homeless people who have died, and a chance to spotlight the needs of homeless people living in our community.

In every age group, homeless individuals are three times more likely to die prematurely than the general population, according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. Their average age of death is about 50 years, while the general population can expect to live to age 78.





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