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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 1:07 am | Overcast 59º


At Community Memorial Service, Homeless Gone But Not Forgotten

Residents gather in honor of the 17 homeless who have died this year in Santa Barbara and to raise awareness about the plight of those on the streets

A memorial service on Monday honoring the lives of the 17 homeless people who have died in Santa Barbara this year was held near the public restroom at East Beach, where Ross Stiles was beaten in February and later died in the hospital.

His attackers haven’t been found, but the Santa Barbara Police Department was persuaded to reopen the case after closing it five weeks after Stiles’ Feb. 4 death, social worker Ken Williams said.

Williams helped organize Monday’s event because he, like many of those who attended, believes that there’s a lack of recognition of the homeless community.

“Seventeen people die in a small community and life just goes on,” he said. “There’s a willful ignorance of the pain that’s on the streets.”

The site of the service was chosen because “we don’t want to forget,” said Teena Grant, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s chaplain. “They were part of our community, therefore part of us.”

As mourners arrived, a lone violin played and volunteers from the Community Kitchen of Santa Barbara laid out food on a table of cardboard boxes. Flowers were placed at the base of the painted metal Morris Bear sculpture, which depicted flowers with the name of each person who passed away. The dog pictured, Max, was the guardian of Chris, one of the homeless women who died this year.

During the service, seven members of the local clergy read off the names, dates and causes of death of each person, whose ages ranged from 23 to 70. Each of the 17 names was accompanied by the ringing of a bell.

Many of those who attended are homeless, formerly homeless or work for organizations such as Casa Esperanza and the Community Kitchen, which helped organize the event.

Although the few city officials and other local politicians in attendance weren’t specifically invited, Williams said he was glad they came so that they might influence police and policy.

Volunteers from the Community Kitchen of Santa Barbara laid out food on a table of cardboard boxes for those who attended Monday's memorial service
Volunteers from the Community Kitchen of Santa Barbara laid out food on a table of cardboard boxes for those who attended Monday’s memorial service. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

“There should be more community outreach, but there’s not,” he said.

One man’s story

“It’s a damn shame,” said Hopper, a man who lived on the streets of Santa Barbara for 10 years. “People aren’t here for the real purpose; they need to recognize the homeless need help.”

Hopper saw the memorial as a call for more community outreach.

“Some of us go to City Hall on Tuesdays and try to talk (to the City Council), but we’re hushed up in a heartbeat,” he said.

Hopper said he was once arrested while waiting to speak during the public comment period about five years ago, and went to the hospital about 60 times from 2000-07 because of being homeless and having alcohol-related problems.

“As soon as you’re out of the hospital, you’re right back on the streets,” he said. “And as soon as you’re out of jail, you’re right back on the streets.”

Hopper has gone through years of watching friends die, including some of those remembered at Monday’s service. His last few years being at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, going to drug and alcohol classes and working to get off Social Security dependence have been to get in a better position for his goal: working in homeless outreach.

“My position will be better to reach out instead of just recognizing people once they’ve passed away,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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