HYANNIS – Once a year, people who are homeless come together with human service providers, clergy and community leaders to pay remember the homeless people who have died this year on Cape Cod.
Last year’s Homeless Persons Memorial Service honored eight people and this year, it is honoring 32 people.
Elyse De Groot of Duffy Health Center said local human service providers do not know why the number has risen so sharply so much, but she mentioned the harsh weather in the winter months earlier this year as well as the increase in heroin overdoses in recent months as possible contributing factors.
She also cautioned that there may be homeless people who have died that are not counted because human service providers do not know of them. But she said that improved coordination between human service providers in recent years may mean that they have a more accurate count of the number who have died.
This year’s Homeless Persons Memorial Service will take place Sunday, December 21 at 5 p.m. beginning on the Hyannis Village Green. Participants will then walk to the Federated Church of Hyannis for a service.
For Cathy Finn, a case manager at Duffy Health Center, the service is personal. Not only did she know many of those who died this year but one of them was a classmate in Barnstable Public Schools. The two were in classes together in school.
More recently, Finn knew the woman as a client.
Listen below to hear Cathy Finn, as well as Elyse De Groot from Duffy and the Reverend John Terry from the Federated Church of Hyannis, discuss the Homeless Persons Memorial Service.
She said last year’s Point-in-Time count for Cape Cod and the Islands, which attempts to quantify the number of people who live in shelters and on the streets on one designated night, staffers counted 375 people homeless on Cape Cod and the Islands. Of those 77 were living unsheltered, on the streets and in the woods, she said.
Studies estimate that the Cape and Islands have upwards of 6,000 people who fall into homelessness annually.
More than 500 people used the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis last year, and almost 3,000 people received services at Duffy Health Center.
The 32 people who will be honored at the service were homeless or had recently been housed at the time of their deaths.
De Groot pointed out that homelessness itself can bring on an early death.
Many studies show people who live with serious mental illness and/or homeless have lives that are 15 years shorter than the average US resident, she said.
People who are homeless die early from untreated medical conditions such as cardiovascular issues and diabetes, as well as higher rates of violence and substance abuse.
But, she said, on Cape Cod, “Our collective efforts over the past five years have made a significant reduction in single adult homelessness. In 2009, the Main Street Initiative counted 93 people on the street in downtown Hyannis; today that count hovers between 15 and 30 people depending on the season.”
She said that reduction is largely due to the coordination between services providers, housing providers, law enforcement, the business community and community residents.