Life / Health > Death
> Indigent burials
Poor / homeless people,
Common / pauper graves, Potter's field
New York, US
A photograph taken
with a drone shows bodies being buried
on New York’s Hart Island
amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Photograph: Lucas Jackson
20 photographs of the week
Medical staff hold palm tree branches
at the emergency unit of the Molinette hospital
Sat 11 Apr 2020 07.00 BST
Twenty-two bodies slated for burial on Hart Island
sometimes for years, before being laid to rest.
Some of the deceased had families
who were searching for them
For Unclaimed Dead, Grim Delays Before the Final Stop
By ALEXANDRA GARCIA, JOHN WOO,
ALON SICHERMAN, MICAH DICKBAUER and SHANE O’NEILL
Oct. 27, 2016 | 2:02
This Is Hart Island
NYT May. 15, 2016
This Is Hart Island
An uninhabited strip of land
off the coast of the Bronx in
Long Island Sound
has been the final resting place
for New York City's unclaimed
dead since 1869.
By JOHN WOO, ALEXANDRA GARCIA,
ALON SICHERMAN and MICAH DICKBAUER
NYT May. 15, 2016 |
common grave USA
mass grave USA
USA > New York’s Potter’s Field on Hart Island
UK / USA
home to New York City's pauper graves
Here on a grassy expanse
toward the south end of Hart Island,
off the Bronx,
the trenches are 10 feet deep
and as long as a football field.
They fill up steadily with the dead
— the homeless, poor, stillborn
and other unclaimed bodies —
delivered by truck and ferry
from all over New York City,
for unceremonious interment.
His crews follow a grim arithmetic:
up to 1,500 bodies buried a year,
organized into 70-foot-long plots that,
with caskets stacked three-high
in rows of six,
can hold about 150 adults each,
or 1,000 infants,
who are buried in trenches
separate from the adults.
On this 101-acre island,
the number of burials since 1869
now approaches one million.
- NYT, 2013
Oct. 27, 2016
100000004401809/this-is-hart-island.html - May 15, 2016
Corpus of news articles
Life / Health > Death > Burials >
Indigent burials >
Poor / homeless people, unclaimed
Common / pauper graves, Potter's
Indigent Burials Are on the Rise
October 11, 2009
The New York Times
By KATIE ZEZIMA
Coroners and medical examiners across the country are
reporting spikes in the number of unclaimed bodies and indigent burials, with
states, counties and private funeral homes having to foot the bill when families
The increase comes as governments short on cash are cutting other social service
programs, with some municipalities dipping into emergency and reserve funds to
help cover the costs of burials or cremations.
Oregon, for example, has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of unclaimed
bodies over the past few years, the majority left by families who say they
cannot afford services. “There are more people in our cooler for a longer period
of time,” said Dr. Karen Gunson, the state’s medical examiner. “It’s not that
we’re not finding families, but that the families are having a harder time
coming up with funds to cover burial or cremation costs.”
About a dozen states now subsidize the burial or cremation of unclaimed bodies,
including Illinois, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Most of the
state programs provide disposition services to people on Medicaid, a cost that
has grown along with Medicaid rolls.
Financing in Oregon comes from fees paid to register the deaths with the state.
The state legislature in June voted to raise the filing fee for death
certificates to $20 from $7, to help offset the increased costs of state
cremations, which cost $450.
“I’ve been here for 24 years, and I can’t remember something like this happening
before,” Dr. Gunson said.
Already in 2009, Wisconsin has paid for 15 percent more cremations than it did
last year, as the number of Medicaid recipients grew by more than 95,000 people
since the end of January, said Stephanie Smiley, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin
Department of Health Services.
In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn tried to end the state’s indigent burial program
this year, shifting the financing to counties and funeral homes, but the state
eventually found $12 million to continue the program when funeral directors
The majority of burials and cremations, however, are handled on the city,
county, town or township level, an added economic stress as many places face
down wide budget gaps.
Boone County, Mo., hit its $3,000 burial budget cap last month, and took $1,500
out of a reserve fund to cover the rest of the year. While the sum is relatively
low, it comes as the county is facing a $2 million budget shortfall, tax
collections are down 5 percent and the number of residents needing help is
expected to grow.
“We’ve had a significant increase in unemployment, wages are dropping,
industrial manufacturing jobs go away and companies scaled back or even closed
their doors,” said Skip Elkin, the county commissioner. “But we feel an
obligation to help families who don’t have any assets.”
The medical examiner of Wayne County, Mich., Dr. Carl Schmidt, bought a
refrigerated truck after the morgue ran out of space. The truck, which holds 35
bodies, is currently full, Dr. Schmidt said. “We’ll buy another truck if we have
to,” he said.
Many places are turning to cremation, which averages a third to half the price
of a burial. However, they will accommodate families’ requests for burial.
Clyde Gibbs, the chief medical examiner in Chapel Hill, N.C., said the office
typically averaged 25 to 30 unclaimed bodies each year. At the end of the 2008
fiscal year there were at least 60, Dr. Gibbs said. The office cremates about
three-quarters of the remains, and scatters the ashes at sea every few years.
In Tennessee, medical examiner and coroners’ offices donate unclaimed remains to
the Forensic Anthropological Research Center, known as the “Body Farm,” where
students study decomposition at the University of Tennessee. The facility had to
briefly halt donations because it had received so many this year, said its
spokesman, Jay Mayfield.
The increase in indigent burials and cremations is also taking a toll on funeral
homes, which are losing money as more people choose cremation over burial. In
2003, 29.5 percent of remains were cremated; by 2008 the number had grown to 36
percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America, and it is
expected to soar to 46 percent by 2015, according to the association’s
projection of current trends.
Don Catchen, owner of Don Catchen & Son Funeral Homes in Elsmere, Ky., who
handles cremations of the poor in Kenton County, said the $831 county
reimbursement for cremations was “just enough to cover the cost of what I do — I
donate my time.”
In Florida, where counties switched to cremation a few years ago to save on
costs, Prudencio Vallejo, general manager of the Unclaimed Bodies Unit of the
Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office, said cremations were $425,
compared with $1,500 for a burial. They have risen about 10 percent this year,
Mr. Vallejo said.
“Most people, the first thing that they say is ‘We wouldn’t be coming to you if
we could afford to do it ourselves,’ ” he said.
Broward County, Fla., paid for the cremation of Renata Richardson’s daughter,
Jazmyn Rose, who was born stillborn on Sept. 25, 2008. Ms. Richardson, 26, lost
her job at an advertising agency in July and could not afford to pay.
The county spent about $1,000 on a cremation and pink urn, engraved with the
baby’s birth and death date, and a Bible passage. It now sits in the bassinette
where she was to sleep.
“I was strapped for cash, I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what they were
going to do with her,” Ms. Richardson, of Davie, Fla., said. “I was honored that
they went that far to help me.”
Indigent Burials Are
on the Rise, NYT, 11.10.2009,
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