MISSOULA, Mont. - As December 21 marks the longest night of the year, communities across the country will honor those who've lost their lives from impacts of homelessness with the National Homeless Persons' Memorial.
In Missoula, two ceremonies will honor the 22 people in the community who died in 2021.
On top of remembering individuals, the events aim to bring awareness to a growing problem in the state.
Based on the latest data available from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Montana's homeless population grew 13.9% between 2019 and 2020.
While the population is growing, the number of deaths in Missoula is holding steady.
With more shelter options in Missoula last winter, zero people died of exposure to weather.
However, the community lost people due to things like COVID-19 and other health issues.
According to Loma Linda University Health, challenges accessing healthcare, like costs, insurance and transportation, exacerbate health risks associated with homelessness.
Sarah Penix, communications coordinator at the Poverello Center, said Tuesday's memorial brings awareness to these added challenges and humanizes each person beyond just being a statistic.
"These individuals were people the Poverello staff were working with directly," Penix said. "People we spend everyday with for years, volunteering behind the front desk. People who were actively working with case managers to get into housing but for whatever reason were never able to make it."
There'll be a public memorial at 6 p.m. at the Poverello Center with a eulogy, songs and stories.
There'll be a more intimate memorial at the Johnson Street Emergency Shelter where residents can mourn privately.
The public event will be broadcasted on MCAT and Montanans are also encouraged to light a candle in your home tonight in memoriam.