Costs for Hawaii's homeless continue even after they die
The state pays a price to help homeless residents.
For some, those cost continue - even after they die.
Life on the streets can come to an abrupt end, for Hawaii's homeless.
"They are a sicker population, the Medical Examiner found life expectancy to be 55. We saw that 3 years ago when we found the age of homeless deaths was 50," said Dr. Daniel Cheng, Medical Director of the Queen's Care Coalition.
At Queen's Medical Center, Dr. Cheng sees some of the many homeless patients who make more than 10,000 visits to the emergency room each year.
"By far, the most common usage of the ER is psychiatric and substance abuse, with the most common substance being meth," added Dr. Cheng.
Sometimes the trip to the emergency room is their last.
Other times, residents die where they lived on the street.
For those who have so little in life, what happens to them when they die?
"We try to find next of kin. If we can't, they have to be taken to the mortuary for cremation," said Edie Mayeshiro, Medical Assistance Program Officer for Med-QUEST.
The state has a death payment program which covers the $800 cost for cremation, for those that have no family or friends to cover their final expenses.
Last year alone, 204 people were covered by the program.
It benefits anybody unable to pay, although homeless residents make up a large number of those who receive the benefit.
"Most of them are eligible because they meet the requirements: they don't have any assets," added Mayeshiro.
Some of the bodies, without anyone to claim them, will end up being cremated at Oahu Mortuary - one of several mortuaries in the state program.
"We perform the cremation and then if there is no family member, we will hold those remains for at least 60 days. Normally when we do the cremation, there is no one around," stated Oahu Mortuary President Scott Power.
At most other cremations, services or memorials are held while goodbyes are given.
"It's sad that there is no gathering or remembrance. I guess it is symptomatic of their situation," added Power.
The ashes are then stored at the cemetery's columbarium, in the hopes a family member will claim them. If not they will be buried later when a future scattering garden is built
For those homeless residents who die at Queen's Medical Center, not only is someone with them when they pass away, their deaths are also marked with a small memorial.
"Sometimes we are the only ones at their funeral. We hold a special ceremony for those who have passed at Queen's," said Dr. Cheng.
But for many of our homeless residents, their death is overlooked - just like their life on the streets.
"What type of society do we want to be when there are some individuals that are so forgotten that in their passing...those who are brothers or sisters, fathers or mothers, that they are passing anonymously?," asked Dr. Cheng.
The state spends just under $200,000 a year on its death payment program for cremation of unclaimed bodies. But also provides several hundred dollars in funeral expenses for those not eligible for social security's one-time death benefit.
If you would like to find out more, go to the Medquest web page at:
Click on the "Death Payments Program Application" instruction and forms links.