By Sarah Ford | Photos by Giles Clasen
Days before Christmas, people gathered to honor those who died on the streets in 2018. In the past year, at least 233 people died while homeless in the Denver area, the fourth year in a row to set a new record of deaths recorded in a single year.
Denver again saw a record high number of people die while living on the streets in 2018. On December 21, 2018, a crowd of about 150 people gathered to honor the at least 233 people who died while experiencing homelessness in the metro area.
It is the fourth year in a row that the number of homeless deaths in Denver has risen, up from 231 names in 2017. It is the most names included in the annual vigil since it began 29 years ago.
“For too many, this will be the only memorial service they will have,” said John Parvensky, president and CEO of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). “Tonight we remember them, we remember them all.”
Each year, the coalition organizes the Homeless Person Memorial Vigil, held on the steps of the City and County Building in downtown Denver. It is one of dozens of memorials held across the nation on Homeless Persons Memorial Day, which falls on the longest night of the year.
“With the growing affordable housing crisis we are seeing in our community, we are unfortunately likely to see more individuals dying prematurely in the coming year. In a community as rich as ours, it is unconscionable that there are still those without decent shelter and housing,” said Parvensky. “This is not a failure of theirs, it is a failure of ours.”
CCH gathers the names through a collaboration with the Denver Medical Examiner’s Office, which provided 110 names, and the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, which provided 123 names. After the vigil, eight people also shouted out names of those who passed and were not listed, bringing the total to at least 241 people.
According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy for Coloradans as of 2016 is 78.1 years. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the life expectancy of persons experiencing homelessness to be just in the 40s. Mortality among the homeless population has increased by four to nine times, according to the CDC, due to unique challenges such as chronic illness, infections, violence, poor mental health, and substance abuse.
Cause of death and demographic information for those who died was available on only 91 individuals at the time of the vigil. The Denver Medical Examiner’s Office had data for deaths occurring between November 1, 2017, and the end of October 2018.
In that time, out of 91 deaths, 27 were identified as being primarily due to drug overdoses, including opioids and other substances.
It comes a year after Colorado reported the highest number of deaths due to drug overdoses in state history. In 2017, the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment determined that at least 1,012 people died of overdoses across the state, higher than the number of people killed in car crashes.
In 2018, difficulty in accessing medical care and resources to overcome drug addictions continued for the Denver homeless community. Arapahoe House, the largest drug and alcohol treatment center in the metro region, closed its doors in January 2018. Nearly 90 percent of its patients received little to no income.
“We must re-double our efforts to expand adequate, and available, and accessible substance treatment options for those who are addicted, and to provide safe and affordable housing to help reduce and end homelessness in our community,” Parvensky said.
The Medical Examiner’s Office also found that physical trauma accounted for 23 deaths, heart disease for 13, and the rest of the 91 confirmed deaths were listed as due to alcohol, hypothermia, pneumonia, or other diseases.
According to the coalition, at least 1,348 people experiencing homelessness in the metro region have died since 2008.
Before names were read at the vigil, Randel Loeb — a CCH board member, formerly houseless individual, and a founding member of the VOICE — read a memoriam to those who had died.
“We will not be denied, we will never be denied,” he said. “We will rise no matter what. We will survive, no matter how. We’ll rise. We’re people who have contributed the utmost with our sweat, our tears, our lives.” ■
Denver’s Homeless Memorial
During a candlelight vigil last month, Denver mourned those who lived on the streets of Denver and passed away in 2018. We have printed their names here to honor their memories.
Kent Austin, III
Dennis Neal Beckel
Willie Brown, III
Willie Lee Caldwell
Angel Castillano (a.k.a. Phillip Martinez)
Angel Cerna, Jr.
Frank Andrew Clifford (a.k.a. Drew)
Jerome Coronado (a.k.a. Rome)
Anthony Del Duca
Roxie Ellis Perry (a.k.a. Damien)
Dana Franklin (a.k.a. Randy)
Joseph Garcia (a.k.a. Mayor)
Frank James Gilford
Edward Louis Jackson
Charles Ray Johnson
Barbara Jones (a.k.a. Wallender)
Norbert Krehl, II
Anthony Manuel Lanford
Louis D. LaPlaca
Gregory Lee Herrera
William Loring Jones III
Brandon Martin (a.k.a. Meatloaf)
James W. Martin, Jr.
Jamie D. Martinez
Armando Mauleon Servin
Kevin Mays, Jr.
Franklin Meagher (a.k.a. Frankie)
Lorrie R. Mills-Holmes
Edward F. Moore
Rogelio Munoz, Jr.
Robin Nelson (a.k.a. Rob)
Judith Diana Pearson
Noe Quevedo Valle
Antonio San Javier Arriaga
Robert Joe Trimble
Tomasitto Ulloa, Jr.
Daniel Van Raam
Frank Van Wier
Ronald Vigil, Jr.
Timothy Ray Walker
Terrance Edward Wardlow
Robert E. Wright
Christopher Zamudio (a.k.a. Boston)