Gone but not forgotten
Memorial in Ventura recognizes city’s homeless
By Chris O'Neal 12/12/2013
Those who have passed away homeless this year will be remembered this coming Sunday at the Homeless Person’s Memorial service in Ventura.
The Rev. David Pyle of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura (UUCV) says the memorial, in its ninth year in Ventura, is an opportunity to give the homeless the same remembrance as others receive.
“We realized as a church and an advocacy program that when somebody dies who is not homeless, people and family members have an obituary and hold a memorial service for them,” said Pyle. “For many members of our homeless community, when they die, there is no recognition.”
The memorial, hosted by the church’s Lift Up Your Voice ministry service, will be attended by members of the homeless community and advocates from local charities.
On average, between 20 and 30 homeless deaths are confirmed for the community, whether due to the elements or from other causes. For 2013, 20 deaths have been confirmed, including the recent homicide of a homeless man on Victoria Avenue in Ventura. At this year’s memorial, the homeless range in age from 39 to 69, but according to the Rev. Pyle, many deaths remain unreported or are not included due to the nature of the transient community.
“One of the dynamics of when somebody dies homeless is that they will have some record of a past address in their medical record, so they are not listed as homeless,” said Pyle. “Though we may only have 20 to 30 names per year, we know that that is majorly underreported.”
The Rev. Jan Christian, head of the UUCV, will lead the memorial with a eulogy, but will also ask for the Ventura City Council and other community leaders to take action in regard to safe housing and services for the homeless.
The Homeless Person’s Memorial occurs nationwide and is usually hosted nearer to the winter solstice — when the weather is often the harshest in Southern California.
With the southland’s weather changing — and with the recent cold snap that is to blame for at least four homeless deaths in neighboring Los Angeles — the need for warm shelter is desperate.
The West County Winter Warming Shelter opened to homeless due to the recent frost advisories in the county, but the shelter is only open temporarily during the year.
“We really need to have a year-round shelter in the city,” said Councilman Neal Andrews. “We need to have affordable housing for people. We don’t have it here.”
Andrews has participated in the memorial since the beginning, reading the names of the homeless who have passed away, but this year he will lead a prayer as well.
Ventura has more than 500 homeless residents, many of whom must find shelter during the winter months when what few shelters the city has — whether privately run or through support from the city — are filled to capacity.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Relations, the number of the nation’s homeless has decreased from 2012 to 2013 overall, down 4 percent from the previous year, but has increased in certain states. The Annual Homeless Assessment Report counts the number of individuals and families who check into shelters on a particular night. The last such survey, conducted in January, found 610,042 homeless
— and of those, 35 percent primarily found shelter elsewhere in vehicles or abandoned buildings.
The study also found that the homeless prefer New York City to Los Angeles, but not by much — with 9 percent of the total calling L.A. home to NYC’s 11 percent. Since 2012, the number of homeless in California has increased by nearly 6,000 people.
As part of the Homeless Person’s Memorial, an exhibition of local photography will be on display. The gallery “To Sleep … Perchance to Dream” will feature homeless families with a specific focus on homeless children, who are often overlooked by the community at large, according to Ventura Social Services Taskforce chairwoman Sue Brinkmeyer, who will be at the memorial with Lift Up Your Voice ministry.
“This year we’re calling attention to the fact that so many of them that are homeless are children and families,” said Brinkmeyer. “We’re really trying to crack open those hearts.”
Brinkmeyer has attended the memorial for five years, and this year helped to compile stories of a few of the deceased. John Francis Creighton, who died at the age of 65, was a veteran of the Vietnam War. Creighton suffered from the effects of his service as a war-time medic and was only recently assisted by a case worker.
“We try to do as much service as we can because, yes, we’re trying to call attention to the plight of homelessness overall, but it’s also important to recognize that they were a member of the community.”
Andrews knows of an easy solution to the homelessness issue: to have the residents of the city of Ventura understand the need for a shelter and for the City Council to take action to remedy it.
“I’ve been working on this problem for about 15 years,” said Andrews. “The problem is that we have a lot of people who don’t want housing for the homeless anywhere near them. Anytime we’ve proposed a place, lots of people come out and say no, not here. As long as we have a Council who’s afraid of the NIMBYs [not in my backyard], we’re never going to get anywhere.”
The memorial will be followed by a silent walk through Downtown with attendees carrying plaques featuring the names of the deceased. The photographs will be on display during the memorial and will showcase artwork from the children featured in the gallery, with all donations going toward homelessness programs in the Ventura Unified School District.
The Homeless Person’s Memorial will be held on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m. in Ventura’s Plaza Park. For more information, call 644-3898.
Time for Action
Get involved in your community by volunteering for these activities.
2014 Homeless Persons Count, Jan. 28, Ventura County
How many people are homeless in Ventura County? Help us find out by volunteering to be part of a count team. Morning, afternoon and evening shifts are available. Most counters are in the field for a couple of hours at a time and all must be at least 18 years old. Training is provided at locations around the county.
Sign up to reserve a location and time slot at
www.VolunteerVenturaCounty.org or call 485-6288, ext. 276, for more information.
MLK 2014: Fillmore Park Cleanup, Jan. 20
Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) will be hosting, a Fillmore Park Cleanup and Pathways to Education on Jan. 20, 2014. Give back locally by joining the “I have a Dream. What is your Dream?” event in Fillmore, which will incorporate cleaning up Fillmore city parks, and participate in an educational resource fair. Volunteers are needed from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Two Rivers Park (River Street) in Fillmore. Volunteer check-in and breakfast will begin at 8:30 a.m.
Contact Juliana Gallardo, community building manager, at 659-3791, ext. 185; or 485-6288, ext. 276.