[Hpn] Homeless Who Died in S.F. Are Remembered

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Fri, 22 Dec 2000 16:22:25 -0700

Homeless Who Died in S.F. Are Remembered
So far this year, 155 have perished on streets
Kelly St. John, Kathleen Sullivan, Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writers
Friday, December 22, 2000
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle



The sun slipped down on the longest night of the year yesterday as a crowd
of homeless people and their friends came together in the cold outside City
Hall, lighting candles and praying.

They mourned the homeless who died this year on the streets of San Francisco
as a minister read aloud the names of the 155 dead: Trent Hayward, the
homeless writer who never woke up in June in the dirt near City Hall; Jane
Doe No. 25, who plunged to her death from a hotel room in September; the
"Voodoo Man," who died in a still unsolved hit and run on Dec. 3.

For many of those who perished alone and anonymous in doorways, sidewalks
and parks, yesterday's annual service was probably their only moment of

"It's right that we come together to remember their lives and mourn their
deaths," Rev. Glenda Hope told the crowd of 200. "We are all a part of the
tragedy and the injustice that we see manifested here."

The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness chose yesterday to initiate a
poster campaign designed to raise awareness of homeless deaths. The posters,
displayed at various locations in the city, show the silhouette of a body,
symbolizing one of the homeless who died.

Last year, the coalition counted 183 who died on the streets. The city's
official tally, by the city's Department of Public Health, had 169 homeless
dead for 1999, an all-time record. This year, the health department has
confirmed 104 homeless deaths so far, but the final tally will not be issued
until next year, after officials check the housing status of other people
found dead on the streets.

One poster marks the place where Hayward died, in a corner at McAllister and
Larkin Streets. 

Hayward, 34, was a homeless writer who had landed a job with the San
Francisco Bay Guardian a week before he died.

Victoria Mercado stopped yesterday and gazed at the poster through the
wrought iron fence that now surrounds the area's overgrown lawn.

It was too far away to see the fine print at the bottom: "This poster
symbolizes just one of the 183 homeless deaths on the streets of San
Francisco last year."

But Mercado could see the letters, printed in bright red across the
silhouette's chest and shoulders: "Preventable Death #24."

"When I see that I wonder if it resembles somebody that's homeless, somebody
that's lost, somebody with nowhere to live -- and they ended the line in
death," said Mercado, 49, a substance-abuse counselor. "It's sad it has to
stop like this." 

Homeless people who die on the streets, if not claimed within 30 days, are
cremated by the city. Their ashes are poured into the waters off the Golden
Gate without ceremony.

But yesterday, even those who disappeared into the waves had mourners. At
least for a few hours.

At the memorial service, the names were many: some known before the
ceremony, some not. Some were just pseudonyms for indigents who died without
identity, like the "Voodoo Man," who died on Potrero Hill outside the
offices of Listen.com.

Workers at the dot-com, along with a local soup kitchen and union members
from the nearby United Parcel Service office are raising money to give him a
private cremation and ceremony.

Among the crowd were the homeless like Alf Jensen, who came to mourn his
camp mate, James. The two slept in nearby storefronts on Sutter and Post
Streets until James died four weeks ago.

"I'm here for James," Jensen, 46, said. "He was a nice guy. Died of
pneumonia. He had HIV. He was quiet about it. I didn't realize he was as
sick as he was." 

Every year for more than a decade, more than 100 homeless people have died
on the streets like James, according to Terry Messman, editor of the
homeless newspaper, Street Spirit.

"Poverty steals everything a person has, making them nameless and faceless
to mainstream society," Messman said. "And when they die, instead of being
mourned and given a dignified service, they are forgotten and their bodies
are treated like garbage to be turned into ashes.

"How can this be in America?"

E-mail Kathleen Sullivan at ksullivan@sfchronicle.com, Kelly St. John at
kstjohn@sfchronicle.com and Kevin Fagan at kfagan@sfchronicle.com.

©2000 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A27


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