On Monday, The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP) hosted its 24th annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service via Zoom. More than 150 people gathered virtually to honor the 87 known individuals who died this year while experiencing homelessness.
The virtual service was interrupted by people saying racist and other offensive terms. Once the intruders were kicked out of the meeting it resumed.
Executive Director of CHIP, Chelsea Haring-Cozzi said she didn’t let the interruption rattle the focus of the memorial.
“There has been some really deep felt loss and pain, particularly this year, with a crisis on top of the existing housing and homelessness crisis,” Haring-Cozzi said. “And having an event like this, it's just a really important time to come together as a community and to give space to recognize that loss and and provide support to one another.”
In 2019, the number of individuals who experienced homelessness and passed away was 57. This year, Marion County saw an approximate 50 percent increase in reported deaths. Haring-Cozzi said that with the pandemic making it harder for those experiencing homelessness to get access to those resources.
“More things, you know, were being offered virtually or remotely. That's a lot harder to adjust to or adapt to if you're experiencing homelessness, and you may not have access to technology,” Haring-Cozzi said. “And so, I think there were a lot of things with a pandemic that just compounded what we're seeing this year in terms of the number change in services, I think the isolation that so many people were feeling the increased anxiety and stress of it all may lead people to self medicate may exacerbate already existing mental health issues.”
Haring-Cozzi said reducing the number of deaths will require continued investment in affordable housing connecting people to resources and making that pathway quicker, so that people aren’t left in shelters or are on the streets for long periods of time.