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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) â¿¿ Kate Hopkins didn't know the man in the casket, never met him or his family. Yet, Hopkins stood watch over 48-year-old Francisco Carmona's funeral on a gray, cold day at a county-owned cemetery in south Louisville.
Hopkins joined a group of high school students, a few county employees and a deputy coroner on Feb. 6 to ensure that Carmona, who died in January in a Louisville hospital with no family or friends, had a service â¿¿ the 91st service for the poor in Louisville since Nov. 1.
"We don't come into the world alone. We shouldn't leave it alone," Hopkins said of her practice of attending funerals for paupers since her son first volunteered six years ago.
Counties across Kentucky, like much of the country, are seeing more cases of unclaimed bodies and families who can't afford to bury or cremate a loved one. Every situation is unique, but coroners and local government officials tell a similar story: The economic downturn has left many people without the money to pay for funeral services that can cost thousands of dollars, and it's falling on cities and states to cover the bills.
"You see them more and more because of the economy and people in dire states with financial problems," said Kevin Kirby, a funeral home owner who doubles as the Warren County Coroner in Bowling Green.
No organization or state tracks the number of indigent burials. For this story, The Associated Press interviewed coroners, medical examiners and experts from professional associations in states and counties across the country.
How unclaimed remains are handled varies by state, and in many cases, in which county the person dies. Sixteen 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. Chicago has used mass graves and in Los Angeles, bodies are routinely cremated. Kentucky gives counties an option of burying the deceased or obtaining a court order to have the remains cremated.