Each year on the winter solstice, more than 160 cities across America gather for “The Longest Night” to remember the members of their communities that died without permanent homes, on National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.
On December 21, a ceremony was held at the Anaheim Cemetery to honor and remember the more than 200 people who died last year on the streets of Orange County.
Tim Houchen, the main organizer of the event, was homeless in Orange County from 2011 to 2015 and is now the head of a non-profit organization called Hope 4 Restoration.
A centerpiece of the event is a memorial wall which lists the names of all those who died this year. The wall is decorated with flowers, candles, and photographs of the deceased.
“I’ve been doing these for about five years,” Houchen said. “I’ve had to put my friends’ names who I was homeless with on that memorial, and to call their names during this ceremony…I hope the day comes when none of my friends will be on that wall. Even better, to have no names on that wall.”
The event began with a musical performance by The Solstice Singers, made up of local singers and musicians especially for the occasion.
After the music, a few speakers addressed the gathered crowd.
Patrick Hogan emerged as a leader and spokesperson for the local homeless community during the time of the large encampment along the Santa Ana Riverbed, and afterward.
“His was a voice that spoke for many people that were unable to speak for themselves,” Houchen said as he introduced Hogan. “His willingness to listen to them and hear of their needs of his community, and his ability to communicate those needs to advocates facilitated that urgent response in delivering resources to this emerging human crisis.”
Following the clearing of the homeless encampment along the Santa Ana riverbed in 2018, many people were scattered into motels across the county and shortly thereafter many were back on the streets. Hogan wrote articles and created a newsletter that allowed people to be informed and reconnect during that time.
Hogan read a poem he wrote for the occasion:
I dreamed last night of fellows fallen,
Of those I nodded to in passing, and those I called friends.
Of tents and bags to sleep in,
Of clothes and zippered packs jammed to bursting,
Of bikes with lights and no brakes,
Or skateboard and scooters,
Of paper bag lunches I never ate,
Or gave away to ease hunger.
I dreamed of Sarge and Red Rider,
Of Max and Dancing Robert and Buddy,
And many more whose names I cannot recall.
I dreamed of the smile in their eyes,
And the kindness they tried to hide,
I dreamed of cold stinging rain
And a blazing sun that could melt my shoes,
Of a wind that whips and rips through my soul,
And the cold a cloudless night can bring.
Before awakening, I found myself at a table feast
With a warm, glowing fire.
And the smiling eyes of fallen friends
Welcoming me with a kindness they couldn’t hide.
And I felt homeless no more.
The keynote speaker of the event was Susan B. Parks, president and CEO of Orange County United Way. Under her leadership, the organization launched United to End Homelessness, an initiative committed to end homelessness in Orange County by providing housing and supportive services.
“Tonight we honor our lost neighbors, friends, and family members who died this year while experiencing homelessness,” Parks said.
She explained how living on the streets is “treacherous, stressful, and deadly.”
“It has been proven time and time again that the end to homelessness is a home. We are advocating for the production of more permanent supportive housing in Orange County,” Parks said.
Attendees then assembled at the memorial wall with candles as volunteers read the name of each person who died homeless this past year.
Here is a list of the names:
EDWARD OLAGUE III
DONALD AMES II
ARMANDO MARTINEZ II
INFANT FEMALE ANDERSON
ERNEST PARRA JR.
VICENTE DE LEON
ISIDRO ROJAS JR.
EDWARD SLANK III
INFANT FEMALE CUEVAS
ERNEST MEZA JR.
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Categories: Local News