The Longest Night of the Year – December 21st
By Reverend Cynthia Rae Eastman
(As printed in the Information Press: http://www.informationpress.net/ )
On the longest night of the year, December 21st, “National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day” is commemorated. In 2009, the San Luis Obispo County Enumeration of the Homeless reported that over a third of the 3,829, who were discovered to be without housing, are children (1,372 of them!); 175 were over the age of 65; and 26% of those surveyed had a mental illness. Sixty percent (2,298) of our county’s homeless are not sheltered – they either live outside or in their vehicles. This puts them at greater risk for freezing to death, committing suicide, or being murdered, as a result of not being housed. Which of our un-housed brothers and sisters will die in SLO County this year?
According to coroner, Steve Crawford, statistics for the deaths of those, who are homeless, are not currently recorded. Therefore, the exact numbers are unknown. However, the media has covered the passing of several local people, who were experiencing homelessness. Tragically, Sharon Ostman was murdered and left in a creek near the Mission; Patricia Ann Kalbskopf was buried alive on the nearby dunes; Mark Edward Lepley was found dead in a homeless encampment; cases of death by hypothermia have been documented; and others have died from various causes.
The county’s “Heat/Cold Emergencies” information states that, in order to help prevent hypothermia, “Everyone should have adequate food, clothing, shelter, and sources of heat.” Dr. James J. O’Connell (Boston Healthcare for the Homeless) warns, “The worst cases of hypothermia occur when days are warm (40-50 degrees F) and nighttime temperature drops to the mid-30’s.” This sort of weather is often experienced in San Luis Obispo County.
The Center for Disease Control suggests “Wearing hats, gloves, and clothing that creates a static layer of warm air, provides a barrier against the wind, and keeps the body dry.” To that end, San Luis Obispo-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Common Ground Worldwide volunteers knit and crochet hats, scarves, and other warm items, which are donated to local shelters. These “Earth Angels” gather on the first Saturday of every month at the Anderson Hotel (955 Monterey Street, SLO) from 1-2:30 p.m. (http://www.commongroundworldwide.org/EARTH-ANGELS.html). To become involved with this project or in commemorating “National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day 12/21,” please contact Rev. Cynthia: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the event that you come across someone, who is ill on the street, dial 911. If you are feeling depressed, during the holidays or if you are contemplating suicide, call the SLO County Mental Health Access Line @ 1-800-838-1381 or 211. You can make a profound difference in helping to save lives this winter by volunteering your time and donating funds to local homeless service agencies.