Monday, December 28, 2009

Skid Row's Memorial

One week ago today, December 21st, 2009, At 10:00AM, I attended a unique memorial service at the James M. Woods Community Center, located at the corner of Fifth Street and San Julian. It was sponsored by Skid Row Housing Trust's sister organization, the Single Room Occupancy, or SRO Housing Corporation. The memorial was for all of those who passed away during the previous year in the various organizations, like SRO and SRHT, that cater to the local population in and around Skid Row in Los Angeles. Mention was made of those who did not have the chance, or choose not to participate in these programs and opportunities, and died while living on the streets, their number unknown for 2009, but it stood at 60 last year, excluding murders and suicide.
Of course those who died because they were murdered or committed suicide should be remembered as well, we just didn't know who they were, which is very sad in itself.
The event was hosted by the Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director of SRO, Anita U. Nelson, lovely woman, who handed me a program after I entered the building. The official title of the event was this: "National Homeless Person's Memorial Day." I don't know how "National," this is as it appears to be a local event, which I'm told takes place every year on the winter solstice, no matter what that day may happen to fall on. Why? I'm told because on that day the northern hemisphere experiences the longest night of the year, which must have some symbolic significance to the sponsors, which would explain the poem found on the back of the program entitled, "The Longest Night." Author unknown.

On this longest night
No winter chills my bones
No sorrow fills my thoughts
For I am now at home.

Solace I give to thee
Teardrops that fall today
Shall shatter on the grounds we walked
Of which we paved the way.

For they looked my way but only saw
The outer shell of a being
They closed their eyes, and turned their head
Then stepped right over me.

They looked my way but you did not see,
a way to ease my plight
They closed their eyes, and turned their head
And left me to the night.

But stars that shined so brightly
Even under darkening skies
Will light a path audaciously,
On this longest night.

Forget me not this winter
Nor summer, spring or fall
My thoughts may keep you safely
From winters cruel cold arms.

My laugh will give you summers
My tears drop August rain
And on your darkest night
My smile will guide the way.

Forget me not this winter
But make my life your plight
No sympathy, don't weep for me.

I'd never been inside the James M. Woods Community Center building before, although I pass it on a regular basis, either when walking, or taking the bus. It's a modern looking, two story, steel and Formica affair, surrounding a large, 150 or so capacity meeting area, with a small stage along the north wall. It's my understanding they show movies in there for the local community on a weekly basis.
Coffee, hot chocolate, little pieces of cake, brownies, cookies, and fresh fruit were served before things got started, and the room almost filled to capacity. Representatives from SRO, SRHT, Union Rescue Mission, Los Angeles Catholic Worker (Hippie Kitchen), The Woman's Action Coalition, and the Lamp Community (a nonprofit organization that works to permanently end homelessness, improve health, and build self-sufficiency among men and women living with severe mental illness, so their web site states. For some reason Lamp's list of deaths were not included on the program). One wonders if it is true that the Los Angeles Mission, Midnight Mission, and the Fred Jordan Mission, as well as a few other organizations, suffered no deaths within their facilities during the past year, as their exclusion on the program would imply.
The ceremony began by being welcomed by Anita, then a client from the Union Rescue Mission, Shalonda Sims sang us a song, "I Surrender All." The CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, the Reverend Andy Bales spoke briefly, his main point being that by next year everyone who wants housing on Skid Row should be able to get it. I agree. Then the Reverend, along with the Unity Praise Team, sang a couple of more songs, including "Amazing Grace." And then representatives of the organizations present got up on stage and read the names of those who had passed. Yvette, from the Simone Hotel, who we've met before during our beach outing, and the opening of the Carver, represented SRHT, which this year had the longest list of them all:

From the Hippie Kitchen (the Hippie Kitchen does not provide housing, so the following people must have been very well known by the volunteers there, who became aware of their passing): Regina M., Marie McGuire, Issac Craig, Candy or Bear, John Baronovic, K.K. & Tommy, Big Sister (Sissie) Holly, John Alex, Joy Whitmore, Robert (Shorty) Burns, Teresa at the Regal, Josephine at the Regal, Sonia Tauanuu, and Terri Koenig.

Woman's Action Coalition: Deloris Blevins, Regina Mosley, Josephine Ippalito, China, and Red.

From the Union Rescue Mission: Mary Jane Erspamer, and Parrish Reed.

SRO Housing Corporation: Buren Elias, Carol Taylor, Dwayne Luke, James Williams, John White, Joseph Jimenez, Reginald Payton, Sharon Smith, Stephen Farrell, Tommie Hayes, and William Franklin Watt.

And from Skid Row Housing Trust: Albert Bracket, April King, Larry Martin, Luke Dwain, Hollis Slah, Jose Macinas, Thomas Birdsong, Sterling Hines, Rowena Brow, Henry Winters, Kelly Worrel, Ruffus Dailey, Jesse Tumblin, Mary McGuire, Jose Montoya, Patrick Rizzo, Virginia Santillan, Oscar Puente, Steven Prenosil, Debra "Shy" Stom, Marvin Washington, Margaret Holloway, Ida Blank, Dumas Duffy, George Kenney, and Agusta Hicks a.k.a Gusie.

And Lily Belle Burk, age 17, who was murdered on July 25, 2009.

"...and all those who crossed our paths who weren't named."

May they rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. This is my poem. I wrote this when I worked at SRO. They know who wrote it. Shame on them.