For the fourth year, the Missoula Community will gather on the steps of the County Courthouse to commemorate the homeless people who have died in 2019.

The ceremony will take place at 4:30 p.m. on December 21, the longest night of the year.

Jesse Jaegar, Director of Development & Advocacy at the Poverello Center said the gathering is part of a nationwide movement to commemorate those who have died while experiencing homelessness.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had 22 people who have passed away who have experienced homelessness here in Missoula County,” said Jaegar. “This is an opportunity to remember those individuals and to talk about their lives. So many of the homeless in our community get pushed to the margins, so this is a way to honor their lives and remember them.”

Jaegar said the Poverello Center is the focal point for homelessness in western Montana.

“We almost always know the individuals who have passed away,” he said. “We have a former staff person who is a local minister, Laura Folkwein with University Congregational Church who will often come in and do a memorial service after a death and sit and talk to people who were close to that person. And we appreciate her taking part in the ceremony on Saturday.”

Jaegar provided sobering statistics on the homeless population.

“On average, people experiencing homelessness live about 20 fewer years than someone who is housed,” he said. “Being homeless definitely has some pretty severe health consequences. You can imagine not having access to regular food, being outside, and many also experience co-occurring mental health or substance abuse issues and they’re more likely to be a victim of crime. Life is tough to the homeless and the life expectancy is much less than the regular population.”

The ceremony will begin at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in front of the Missoula County Courthouse steps. The names of all 22 people will be read aloud and there will be a eulogy that will combine the stories of many who have passed away in 2019.

Events are held around the country on the longest night of the year, often outdoors during a bitterly cold evening.