Days of the dead
Every year the list gets longer. Every year, they start from the beginning.
There were five memorial services held at the end of North C Street this October for people who died while experiencing homelessness in Sacramento County. Normally, there are one or two a month. Hannah Ozanian, standing in Friendship Park on the first day of November, says there will be another service tomorrow.
“We’re trying our hardest to make this a true celebration,” she says. “We have over 700 names to read.”
That’s approximately how many homeless Loaves & Fishes guests died since 2001. Borrowing from the Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, people come together to read the list of names. Every year the list is longer. This year’s memorials began a couple months after the 2018 Sacramento County Homeless Deaths Report detailed a sharp rise in such deaths last year.
Pedro “Tony” Torres. Clara Rene Swan. Sheila Green.
In Mexico, the Day of the Dead celebration lasts from October 31 to November 2, when the living create altars with food, drinks, photos and other earthly offerings for their dead loved ones. It’s celebrated in homes and cemeteries. Here, two dozen people took turns reading names in front of a quaint altar of marigolds, flower crowns and programs. This ceremony is in Friendship Park, a place of respite for the city’s homeless population and a program of Loaves & Fishes, which offers services to those experiencing homelessness. Fountains that contain many of the names being read flank the gathering, an encircling some join while others watch from surrounding tables.
Joe King. Ignacio Rosa. Norman Allen.
Ozanian, the director of Friendship Park, rings a bell in between each reading of names. A muffled chant of “presente, presente, presente” follows. It takes under an hour to read all 715 names, all but two of whom experienced homelessness: The late Loaves & Fishes founder Dan Delaney and board member Bob Pinkerton were also honored.
In its annual report, the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness reported 127 deaths in 2017—a 75 percent jump from the 71 deaths reported the previous year. The nonprofit uses data from the coroner’s office to tabulate the annual count. Last December, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual Homeless Assessment Report estimated that a quarter of those who were homeless live in California.
Larry J. Rogers. John Sykes. Raymond Porter.
The list includes many men, who made up 79.3 percent of the deaths in 2017. But the percentage of women who died while homeless grew, from 16 to 18 percent from 2016 to 2017. Emily Judd Bevington was one of those women; it’s her memorial that will be held the next day at Maryhouse.
About a dozen people gathered at Loha’s Garden in the backyard at Maryhouse, a day shelter for women and children that falls under the Loaves & Fishes umbrella. A standing bouquet of flowers was wrapped in a green ribbon, Emily’s name written in gold lettering.
“She took showers here, ate breakfast, got her mail here as many of you do,” said Shannon Dominguez-Stevens, Maryhouse director. “This campus was Emily’s landing pad.”
She welcomed others to speak about Emily, a 54-year-old mother of two grown daughters. A couple friends came up, remarking on her funky dyed hair and big smile. The last to speak was her husband, David Bevington.
“It’s like getting the breath knocked out of you, losing someone you love,” he said.
Bevington likes to tell people they spent “33 and a half months together.” Twenty-four of those, they were homeless.
They met about three years ago, as she was rolling up her sleeping bag in front of a gym and he was looking for his job site where he cleaned windows. Bevington has early-onset Alzheimer’s, and Emily joined his business and acted as his caretaker. They washed windows for a dollar a minute and wrote and performed country songs at open-mic nights while based out of a tent along the American River.
They were married in June. Bevington, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard, said they were on the brink of getting caregiver benefits for Emily.
“We had just almost gotten everything together,” he said, wearing her wedding ring on his pinky.
After the service, Stevens encouraged the group to take a flower from Emily’s bouquet, either to hold onto or to place somewhere on the Loaves & Fishes campus in her memory. Bregetta Borden took a flower and sat back down. She met Emily about five years ago at the Salvation Army shelter, and had stood up to speak during the ceremony. She said Emily was easy to open up to.
“It was nice to know you can talk to somebody that you can trust out here,” Borden said. “Homeless people are people too and had lives before they became homeless. … There are people who want to remember and love them.”