Saturday, December 28, 2019
[Humboldt County] On the longest night of the year in Eureka, local groups remember the homeless who died
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
At least 41 homeless people who died in Humboldt County over the last year and a half were memorialized Saturday night in Eureka.
“Those people had many different causes of death,” said Nezzie Wade, co-founder of Affordable Homeless Housing Solutions. “Many of them say natural causes, but they weren’t really natural causes.”
Wade read off the names of each of the people who died for the thirteenth year at the annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day at the gazebo in Old Town Eureka on a rainy Saturday night. AHHA and the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction put on the event to put a spotlight on the difficulties of being without a home on the longest night of the year, Dec. 21, which also happened to be cold and rainy.
Jessica Smith, executive director of HACHR, said her organization mostly deals with people who use drugs, but those people are also often homeless. The lack of stability and not having one’s basic needs met greatly impacts one’s ability to make “better and healthier choices for themselves,” she said.
“We’ve seen the loss of folks from hit-and-runs and being homeless and not being valued the same way as everyone else,” Smith said. “I think it’s important to honor those lives and remember those folks.”
The winter solstice is a symbolic night to remember those without housing because it happens to be the darkest and longest night of the year, Smith said.
There are additional people who aren’t on that list and others who were never identified, Wade said, adding to a list of 150 that have been read over the course of the past 13 years.
It speaks to the need to open more shelters for those without housing, the women said. A Humboldt County civil grand jury report found earlier this year that current shelters present impediments for people who are not single, who have a pet and who have to carry all their possessions with them.
It can become exhausting for organizations with working with homeless people to see the system fail them over and over again, Smith said.
“We’ve spent lots of time trying to get folks into temporary housing and shelters,” Smith said, “and the barriers that continue to come up — it’s just amazing.”
Citizens can help by advocating for alternative shelter options, such as sanctioned camps and safe parking areas, at local municipal meetings, as well as supporting organizations that are working with the homeless, Smith said.
December 21, 2019
By Sonia Waraich