News

Community remembers homeless who have died: ‘They mean something’

Monica K. Villa, 61, of Merced adds the names of homeless people who have died to a list that was read aloud Wednesday in their memory at Applegate Park in Merced. Food and clothing were available during the service.
Monica K. Villa, 61, of Merced adds the names of homeless people who have died to a list that was read aloud Wednesday in their memory at Applegate Park in Merced. Food and clothing were available during the service. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

On the first day of winter and before the longest night of the year, Merced groups took a moment Wednesday to remember the homeless who died on the streets.

“The homeless are downtrodden, and people look down on them,” said John “Pyrehit” Verrocchi, 56, who attended the memorial in Applegate Park. “They need to be remembered. They’re a human being, and they mean something. We’re all made in the image of God.”

They need to be remembered. They’re a human being, and they mean something. We’re all made in the image of God.

John “Pyrehit” Verrocchi, 56, of Merced

Verrocchi helped contribute to a list of names of people who died while homeless that was read during the memorial. Among those for whom candles were lit were Charles Chauff Jr., Joseph “Six-Pack” Linholm and a woman known simply as Kristina.

The ceremony was put on by multiple groups on National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, which is chosen before a night where the most deaths of homeless people are recorded from exposure, said Salvador Sandoval, a local doctor who also volunteers with the California Central Valley Journey for Justice.

A January census organized by Continuum of Care, a coalition of homeless advocates and service providers, found 519 homeless people in Merced County.

Bruce Metcalf, executive director of the Merced County Rescue Mission, noted that this year in Merced, the opening of a new warming center may help curb deaths from exposure.

Golden Valley High School teacher Amber Kirby, 34, read the list of names, which included the name of her mother, Tami, who died in the last year.

Kirby said her mother didn’t always live on the streets and urged those in attendance to do what they could to prevent people from being homeless.

Gena Mercer, 57, said she knew Kirby’s mother, who suffered from mental illness. Mercer was shocked to hear of Tami Kirby’s death months after it happened, she said.

“Somebody out here might not have been able to say goodbye,” Mercer said about friends of the deceased. “Nobody should go unknown. As long as they’re in your heart, they’re on your mind.”

The ceremony also included a moment of silence for homeless persons’ pets who have died, such as Mercer’s dog, Pippi Lou Longstockings.

Mercer encouraged other homeless people at the event to remember, “We all count. Push through, and keep your head up.”

Pastors from multiple churches read Bible passages, sang spiritual songs and said prayers for the dead.

Golden Valley Health Centers and United Way of Merced County also collaborated on the event.

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477

  Comments