Nazareth College Sociology Professor Releases Homelessness Life Expectancies Research for Monroe County

Released on Sunday, Nov. 19, the First World Day of the Poor after 12:15 Mass at House of Mercy

ROCHESTER, NY (11/17/2017) This Sunday, November 19, marks the first World Day of the Poor, and a Nazareth College sociology professor is marking the occasion with some startling research about homelessness and life expectancies in Monroe County. Dr. Harry Murray, professor of Sociology at Nazareth College, conducted numerous group interviews with the three most long-term House of Mercy (HOM) staff, which resulted in identifying 194 individuals who were homeless, either at time of death or at some point, between 1990 and 2017. Results were compared with other groups to contextualize the local findings. Information was coded into a spreadsheet from the 867 funeral brochures, cards and obituaries which Sister Grace Miller had displayed on the walls of her office in the House of Mercy, a shelter for homeless persons which for roughly thirty years has welcomed all who have come to its doors.

MEDIA is invited to attend the Sunday, Nov. 19, 12:15 p.m. Mass at the House of Mercy on Ormond Street, where Murray will discuss the homelessness life expectancies research at the end of mass.

• The average age at death was 52.4 years, compared to life expectancies of 73.6 years in the 14621 Zip Code (in which the HOM was located for nearly all of this study) and 78.2 years for Monroe County as a whole.
There was a significant difference between men and women. The average age of death for men was 54.9 years, while for women it was 42.2 years.
The average life expectancy for men in Monroe County is 77.3 years, over two decades longer than average age at death of homeless men from the House of Mercy
• The average life expectancy for women in Monroe County is 81.7 years, nearly TWICE the life expectancy of homeless women from the House of Mercy.

• There was no significant difference by race/ethnicity in average age at death in the HOM sample.
• For both men and women in the HOM sample, average age at death increased somewhat over time. For men, it went from 51.0 in the 1990's to 60.0 between 2010 and 2017. For women, it went from 42.3 in the 1990's to 49.3 between 2010 and 2017. The prevalence of AIDS deaths in the earlier years might have contributed to this change over time.
• Within Monroe County, there is a significant negative relationship between the poverty rate in a zip code area and the life expectancy in that zip code. As the poverty rate increases, the life expectancy decreases.
• Studies of homeless deaths in Boston, San Francisco, LA, and Seattle (ranging in time from 1988 to 2015), indicate a range of average age at death from 43.3 to 56. Thus, the average age at death of the House of Mercy sample is within the range of findings from other local studies.
• In all of the studies cited, the average age at death for homeless persons is more than two decades lower than the average life expectancy in the United States.

Out of 190 countries reported in the 2016 UN Human Development Report, only SIX have a lower life expectancy than homeless Americans in the House of Mercy sample: Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, and Swaziland. No country has a lower life expectancy than the homeless women in the House of Mercy obituaries.


Although immediate causes of death range from disease to violence to overdose, there is no question that the condition of homelessness shortens people's lifespans by over two decades. Dr. Murray says, "homelessness is a life-threatening condition. Homelessness is, in effect, an extended death sentence. We, the citizens of Rochester, New York, have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to end homelessness."