As a bell rang, the names of 102 people were called out during a solemn service Tuesday to remember homeless people who have died on the streets of Fresno over the past 10 years.
“We ask you, Lord, that you continue to open our eyes and our hearts to see the humanity and the dignity of each person we meet, whether they are a CEO or a person without a home,” prayed the Rev. Karen Stoffers-Pugh of Wesley United Methodist Church, who was among many faith leaders who gathered outside the Poverello House to share prayers and reflections between the reading of names.
We miss them, we love them, and we are glad we can remember them on Valentine’s Day.
Jim Grant, director of the Social Justice Ministry for the Diocese of Fresno, about homeless who have died
The service was organized by the Bishops’ Homeless Advocacy Committee for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno alongside a number of community partners, including the Fresno County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office, which provided the names. Detectives found names for all but one person, who was listed as “John Doe.” Thirteen were listed as veterans.
This is the first memorial service of its kind. Organizers plan to hold them every year.
Among those who read names of the deceased was Lekesha Williams, who said she has been homeless for more than a year after leaving an abusive relationship. The memorial service touched her heart.
“It blessed me today because I woke up crying for my kids … This is God – he brought this to me,” Williams said of the service. “What more can I ask for, except having my kids come hug me.”
Cruz Avila, executive director of the Poverello House of Fresno, said the service was held on Valentine’s Day to remind people to carry the Valentine’s Day message of love and friendship in their hearts throughout the year.
In reality, we are more similar than we are different.
Rev. Matthew Hamasaki of the Fresno Buddhist Temple
Jim Grant, director of the Social Justice Ministry for the Diocese of Fresno, said that too often homeless people are thought of badly just because they don’t have a home, instead of being seen “for what they are and their deepest needs.”
Imam Abdul Shadid Muhammad of the Muslim American Chaplains Association reminded people to care for both their physical and emotional pain.
“Help them get security, help them get protection, help them to obtain an environment for productivity,” Muhammad said, “because the greatest hurt is on the soul of the human being to not be productive – if he or she feels they have failed in the road – the road meaning success in life. The road meaning that we are able to make a contribution to our family, to our neighbors and to society.”
The Rev. Matthew Hamasaki of the Fresno Buddhist Temple said differences are created by the human mind, not by God.
“There is no difference between the life of someone who is rich and someone who is poor – someone who is healthy and someone who is not healthy,” Hamasaki said. “When we begin to realize this, when we see ourselves in others, we recognize that all human life is precious because all human life must end.”