Across the nation, the Winter Solstice has become a time to remember those who died while homeless. The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. In Santa Cruz County, the number of people who died homeless this year is up.
Over 100 people filled the cafeteria at the Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz Thursday. They sat quietly as the names of the 55 people who died homeless in Santa Cruz County were read aloud.
The number of homeless deaths is up again in the County. Three more people died this year than in 2017 and 18 more than in 2016.
Executive Director of the Homeless Services Center, Philip Kramer, says these numbers help highlight this worsening problem. But he doesn’t want people to be remembered as a data point.
“These are personal lives and I think some of the stories today at the memorial so eloquently and poignantly made that distinction,” Kramer said.
Community members and homeless advocates honored the people who died through stories and song for this 20th Annual Homeless Memorial Ceremony. Colorful banners with their names and ages hung on the wall. The youngest was Christina Branan who died at 27. The oldest was Richard Flanagan at 78.
A few blocks away at Evergreen Cemetery, a permanent homeless memorial site is in the works.
Sibley Simon is a member of the Evergreen Committee at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, which owns the cemetery.
“I hope it's meaningful for many who are experiencing homelessness as just one small step to see the community around them recognizing their humanity,” says Simon.
He adds that Evergreen Cemetery is a perfect place for this memorial. Dating back to the 1850s, the cemetery is the final resting place for all walks of life.
“For many decades it was even the designated place that individuals who died while on the streets or who died in jail or who didn’t have any family to make arrangements for them, Evergreen was the place they would be buried,” Simon says.
The hope is this memorial will be complete by next year’s Winter Solstice. Donations are needed to make it possible. People can donate money for the project to either the Museum of Art and History or the Homeless Services Center. Artists who are interested in helping design the memorial should contact the Arts Council Santa Cruz County.