The rain ceased and a rainbow appeared for community members gathered at a vigil in honor of a homeless man found dead near a Fresno dumpster Jan. 18.
“I can only imagine what he had to go through just on a day-to-day basis and then to be brutally attacked like that had to be one of the worst things,” said Desiree Martinez, Homeless in Fresno coordinator.
Up to 85 people came to the scene of the crime near Barstow and First avenues Sunday to pay respects to a homeless man nicknamed J.D., also known as Happy, B.J. or the “Hey” man.
The man was found with trauma to his upper body Wednesday morning by a security guard, Fresno police Lt. Joe Gomez said. The body was behind the dumpster, which Martinez described as probably being the man’s “living room.”
“If we would’ve had warming centers or dry centers, would he have been inside there and safe?” Martinez asked. Martinez, part of an organization that attends to the needs of the homeless, said if Fresno had more safe zones, his death wouldn’t have happened.
Although the man has not been identified by the Fresno County Coroner’s Office, Martinez said many people in the neighborhood knew him.
“There’s a lot of people that have known him for six years, 10 years, 14, 16, 20 years,” she said.
Terri Reed, a Homeless in Fresno volunteer, said the man never asked for anything. “You almost had to push food on him, or blankets,” Reed said, and added that the gym at the Planet Fitness location would let him clean the business in exchange for a shower and shelter.
Martinez said she can relate to the feeling of being exhausted and hungry. She said she was homeless last year and had thoughts of suicide because nobody tried to help.
“I was sitting in my car and I just didn’t care,” she said.
If someone sees a homeless person outside a grocery store, Martinez would encourage them to buy a water bottle for that person. Some might reject it, but she suggested you just leave it next to them.
“They have to be reconditioned back into love,” Martinez said.
Sunday’s vigil was organized by Homeless in Fresno to bring awareness to the not-so-pretty side of Fresno, Martinez said. She said she is tired of hearing the city lacks funds to support this issue.
“Hopefully our mayor will start paying attention,” Martinez said, referring to new Mayor Lee Brand.
Mark Standriff, a spokesman for the city, on Monday didn’t directly address Martinez’s assertions about the city’s policies and priorities regarding the homeless, but said Fresno is working on the complex issue.
“We recognize that helping those who are homeless or suffering from health and substance abuse challenges is an imperative for our community leaders, which is why the city is heavily invested in successful programs like MAAP Point at the Pov,” Standriff said, referring to the Multi-Agency Access Point operated at the Poverello House shelter near downtown .
“Their innovative approach connects hundreds of homeless individuals each year to support services that help them get back on their feet, which is why Fresno’s efforts to eliminate homelessness have been recognized at the national level.”
“People who are interested in helping the homeless (can) volunteer for the annual Point In Time count, a three-day survey to count all of the homeless in our community, that begins Tuesday,” Standriff added.
People who don’t have time to volunteer, he said, can donate to the Fresno First Steps Home “so we can, in turn, give it away to service providers who are implementing Fresno’s 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness.”
Martinez said she didn’t want J.D.’s death to go unnoticed just because he lived on the streets. “We’re going to stand up until his killer is found,” she said.
“His name will never be forgotten,” she said.