Photos: Vigil at Pauper's Field honors Tucson homeless people who died in 2023

As dusk arrived Thursday evening, around 70 people listened as members of the Primavera Foundation read the names of 133 people who died without shelter in Pima County in the past year.

Since 1990, cities across the U.S. have marked these deaths as part of National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, marking the event with a vigil on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice, which usually falls on Dec. 21.

The Primavera Foundation has marked the day for around two decades at Pauper’s Field at Evergreen Cemetery, said Anna Rojo Keene, Primavera’s public policy advocate.

Last week, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero proclaimed Dec. 21 as National Homeless Persons Memorial Day with the Primavera Foundation, helping to mark the foundation’s 40th anniversary providing emergency and sustaining assistance for 8,000 people, including families and veterans facing poverty and homelessness.

After reading the names and ringing a small bell, members of the public were invited to place carnations on graves. 

As the sun dipped below the Tucson mountains, and the desert’s longest night began, a few people carefully rested the flowers on gravestones. One man, who walked up to the ceremony carrying a large backpack carefully took a few carnations, and worked along several graves, carefully clearing dust from the headstones with his palm, and sprinkling a few red petals across each name.

This year, the Pima County Medical Examiner identified 133 people who died this year as homeless. Another 82 people who died in the county were not identified and aren’t counted as homeless.

Research shows nationally at least 20 people experiencing homelessness die each day, including as many as 7,877 people in 2020, according to data compiled by Homeless Deaths Count. In Maricopa County as many as 595 people died that year, the group said.

The number of people without shelter jumped by 300 percent between 2018 and 2023, according to the annual Point in Time survey conducted by local homeless advocates. Shelter staff has seen an increase in women, including single moms with children, seeking help to avoid homelessness this year.