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Idaho's Homeless Saluted on the Longest Night

December 21, 2011

BOISE, Idaho - Thirteen names will be read tonight at a memorial service for Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. That's how many have died in the capital city during the past year because of issues related to homelessness.

More likely died in other areas of the state, although statistics aren't kept. Jayne Sorrels, executive director of Boise's Interfaith Sanctuary shelter, says long-term homelessness carries the biggest risks.

"Their bodies just get worn down. Their immune systems are compromised, and a lot of them already have some kind of physical disability. Some have addictions, as well, but not all. Some just have health issues."

People without permanent housing die about 30 years sooner than average, she says.

Getting people off the streets is about more than finding a house, Sorels says - it's about ensuring they can be successful.

"It is not just putting people into housing, but a lot of them need wrap-around support, as well - for various reasons, for physical and mental-health issues."

Many who are homeless in Idaho are children, Sorrels says. The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that the rate of homelessness among U.S. children has increased nearly 33 percent since 2007.

The memorial day is always held on the first day of winter, which also is the longest night of the year.

Today's memorial walk is to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Occupy Boise camp, in front of the old Ada County Courthouse. A service will be held at 7 p.m. in the Interfaith Sanctuary parking lot.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID