Longest Night Memorial for the Unhoused: building a just, equitable, and humane city
It was Wednesday, March 6, 2019, when a woman a bit older than myself, with a medium frame and short, salt-and-pepper hair walked into our drop-in. She looked tired, anxious as she stood scanning the room, looking for someone. I went up to her and asked, “Can I help you?” “I’m looking for my son,” she said. “I’ve come in from Boston to see if I can find him. I haven’t heard from him for more than 3 months. He used to call me or text me every few weeks just to let me know he was ok.” She broke down weeping. After a moment she continued, “Can you help me find him? I’m afraid he is dead.”
I know it was Wednesday, March 6, 2019 when this distraught mother of an unhoused son came by because I still have the picture of Kurt’s ID that she shared with me in my phone. Along with the heartbreaking, text exchanges I would have with his mom from time to time. Unfortunately, though some of our guests thought they had seen him, we were not able to locate him.
And that’s when I logged onto the LA County coroner’s website for the first time. Searching the database every few months for Kurt, and through the list of unidentified bodies for someone with his description.
The coroner’s list of unidentified dead is heartbreaking: Case #: 2021-13517, Gender: Male, Ethnicity: Caucasion; Date Found: Dec. 12, 2021; Age: 50+. Case #2021-13317, Gender: Male; Ethnicity: Hispanic/Latin American; Date Found: Dec. 4, 2021; Age: 55+. Case #:2021-13278; Gender: Male, Ethnicity: Hispanic/ Latin American; Date Found: Dec.6, 2021; AGE: 50+. Ever since March 6, 2019, every three to four months I log on, scroll through the list of unidentified dead and pray for them. So that they could at least be somehow seen, somehow remembered, even if unnamed.
Many of you have spent this day journeying across the SFV remembering the dead, we are here this evening to do likewise. To see and name and grieve the unidentified, the unclaimed, and the named persons who died on the streets of the San Fernando Valley, of the City of Los Angeles over the past 20 months. 1500 people. 1500 people, each someone’s child. Each a person with inherent dignity and worth. Each person our sibling. So we come together to remember, to grieve, but also to act. To use this day of remembrance to recommit to the work and joy of loving our neighbors, and together build a just and equitable and humane city where we don’t just let 1500 people die on the streets unnoticed. Together we are building a just, equitable and humane city where all are housed, all have care, all have future. Welcome to this service.