In its 30th year, Mpls. march honors the homeless

Remembering a friend
Sergio Hernandez, left, holds a sign outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, at a march to remember homeless people who died this year. Hernandez, who is from Mexico, honored his friend Ismael Miranda-Rodriguez of Minneapolis.
Kia Farhang / MPR News

A crowd of around 200 people silently walked two miles through Minneapolis to memorialize the people who died while homeless.

The group Thursday night also remembered those who had experienced homelessness and the activists who helped find shelter for them.

Holding signs marked with the names and ages of the 158 dead, the marchers headed south from the Hennepin County Government Center to Simpson United Methodist Church in the Whittier neighborhood.

The march, now in its 30th year, is designed to honor a community that often doesn't receive proper memorials at death, said Steve Horsfield, executive director of Simpson Housing Services.

Simpson noted that, on average, the people remembered during the vigil died at age 45. The National Center for Health Statistics found that U.S. life expectancy is 78.7 years based on 2011 data.

Horsfield said homelessness is both a symptom and a cause of physical and mental health problems that can shorten life; for example, it exacerbates chemical dependency and causes extreme stress.

"What's interesting is that this is taking 30 years off the average life of anyone who has experienced homelessness," he said, even if they later find stable housing.

A statewide one-night survey conducted by Wilder Research in 2012 found 10,214 homeless people — up 9 percent from the last survey in 2009.

The list of people remembered at the service Thursday was 10 names longer than last year's.

Horsfield said he's pleased with the state's efforts to end homelessness, noting $100 million for affordable housing in the bonding bill approved by the Minnesota Legislature earlier this year.

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