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Deaths marked in Missoula as city works to end homelessness - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Deaths marked in Missoula as city works to end homelessness

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MISSOULA - There are more than 500,000 Americans living on the streets according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and hundreds succumb to the harsh cold of winter each year.

Thursday marked the winter solstice and on the longest night of the year, a vigil held in Missoula honored those who did not survive the winter. And for the second year in a row, Missoulians paid tribute to members of the homeless population who died of exposure, unable to escape Montana's harsh cold.

"That's what brought everybody together and it is a cold night," said Theresa Williams who is the director of Reaching Home, Missoula's 10 year plan to end homelessness.

Now in its fifth year, Williams says that while remembrance is important, preventing these deaths is critical.

"We cannot allow people to be homeless on our streets. We need to have housing for everyone," she said. "They're humans. They are relatives, they're mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters."

The winter solstice is one of the most dangerous for homeless people across the country. Candles burned for those lost on Thursday but the flames also symbolized hope that these tragedies will one day be a thing of the past.

Williams believes that the first step toward ending homelessness is to erase prejudices and looking toward underlying factors.

"What's happening, what happened to them, not just what's wrong with them, it's what happened," Williams said.  "Homelessness is a traumatic experience, no one's going to choose that."

While we rest comfortably in our homes, Williams asked everyone to think about what we can do to help ensure no one goes cold this winter.

Around 50 people turned out to take part in the Missoula's event. 

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