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Candlelight Vigil

In this 2014 file photo, vigil participants held candles to honor homeless people who died that year.

RiverStone Health Health Care for the Homeless invites the community to join in a candlelight vigil to remember homeless people who have died, a ceremony now in its 24th year.

The Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil will be held on the Yellowstone County Courthouse Lawn at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21, the first day of winter.

According to a news release from RiverStone Health, attendees are asked to bring a donation of warmth. Donations of new socks, mittens, gloves, hats and scarves of any size or color will be given to homeless people in the community. Men’s sizes are typically in short supply.

The January 2017 survey of homelessness in Yellowstone County and four nearby counties indicated that Yellowstone County had:

  • The highest number of homeless in the state.
  • The highest number of homeless without shelter.
  • The highest number of homeless families.
  • The highest number of homeless children of any region.

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The statewide “point-in-time” survey conducted on Jan. 26, 2017, counted 1,529 homeless people. Of those people, 544 said they were without shelter.

The District 7 survey of Yellowstone, Carbon, Big Horn, Stillwater and Sweet Grass counties counted 431 homeless people, about 28 percent of the statewide total. More than half — 231 people — were without shelter on the day the survey was conducted.

In 2016, 1,699 people received medical services at shelters and other locations around Billings, courtesy of RiverStone Health’s Health Care for the Homeless. Common medical services included treatment for hypertension, diabetes, asthma and lung or heart diseases.

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council says that in every age group, homeless individuals are three times more likely to die prematurely than the general population. The average age at the time of their death is 50, while members of the general population live on average to celebrate their 78th birthday.

“People sleeping outside or staying in shelters are the most visible portion of the homeless population in our community,” said Clarence Salley with RiverStone Health Healthcare for the Homeless. “The homeless who are staying temporarily with relatives or friends, living in low-cost motels, sleeping in their cars or couch-surfing from one place to the next are largely invisible to the rest of the community.”

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