“When Will Enough Be Enough?” USICH Director Delivers Remarks at Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service

December 21, 2023
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Today, on this Homeless Persons' Memorial Day, USICH Executive Director Jeff Olivet will deliver remarks at the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service in Washington, D.C.

People who experience homelessness die nearly 30 years earlier than the average American and at the average age that Americans died in 1900.

Read his prepared remarks:

"What can I say that has yet to be said? When will enough be enough? 

When will our nation live up to our stated values of equality and opportunity for all? When will we cure ourselves of the greed, racism, bigotry, and discrimination that impact so many people without homes, so many people with disabilities, so many people of color, so many LGBTQ+ people? 

When will the bounty of this nation be shared with all people? 

Our towering achievements. Our gleaming monuments. Our nation's world of power and wealth rises, while the distance between our people grows. 

We stand at the quarter mark of the 21st century. Age-old challenges have only gotten fiercer. Death stalks the streets. Deadlier drugs, more extreme weather, and treatable illnesses steal friends, siblings, and parents before their time. 

Then there is the violence. It defines life for many people experiencing homelessness. And make no mistake: People without homes are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. 

As we remember those who have died without homes here in the nation's capital over the past year, let us also remember those who have died in communities across the country.

Let us remember 60-year-old Scott Bryan, beaten to death in Kalispell, Montana, allegedly by a 19-year-old who bragged about it on social media. Let us remember Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old Black man who was choked to death on a New York City subway. And let us remember Michelle Jardine, a grandmother killed in an alleged intentional hit-and-run outside a shelter in Reno. 

May we always hold them in our hearts and in our memory. 

Yet, it is not enough to remember the people we miss. There is still an epic fight ahead for the living. 

That means combating the anger and vitriol directed at people experiencing the tragedy of homelessness. It means breaking the cycle in which one in four foster youth becomes homeless. It means intervening so that the 50,000 people discharged from jails and prisons each year after “paying their debt to society” land in housing—not encampments.   

Fighting for the living means saying over and over again that housing is health care. Housing is health care. Housing is health care. 

Housing is also a basic human right. Housing and services work. Prevention is the key to solving homelessness. And we must work together—advocates, government officials, faith and business leaders, and most of all, people who have themselves experienced homelessness. We must work together to establish a new status quo of health, stability, and housing for all. 

The longest night—the winter solstice—may be inescapable, but these deaths are not inevitable. Despite the feelings of exhaustion, trauma, and uncertainty so many of our friends and neighbors may feel tonight, a different future is possible. A better future awaits us. We have only to seize it. 

So, on this Homeless Persons' Memorial Day, we mourn the lost, and we renew our commitment to a world where housing is a right—not a privilege. A world where we care for one another, regardless of who we are, where we live, and how we got there.  

A world where love triumphs."

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