“How do you treat people you pass by? God asked. That’s where I will build my church. Where there’s love. Where people treat each other well.” Patrick Hogan, speaker at the National Homeless Persons Memorial Day service by Hope4Restoration / Tim Houchen, Anaheim Cemetery.
“Other people may disregard them. But we have come together as a community today to remember all those who died unsheltered in the OC from Dec. 1, 2017 to Nov. 30, 2018. We have not disregarded them and we have come here to honor them.” Paraphrased from Our Longest Night – OC Remembers interfaith candlelight service, Rancho Santa Margarita.
December 21st the longest night of the year, the first day of Winter, Winter Solstice. In the Advent tradition of preparation and waiting, I generally take time out on this day to remember friends and family, our times together, our hopes and plans for the people, places, and communities we love. Then, I write our Christmas greeting before the night is over. This year, as you might have guessed, I did something different. I attended two memorial services for OC people “without fixed abode” i.e. homeless persons.
The first memorial service was at the Anaheim Cemetery, 1400 Sycamore Street, Anaheim. It started at 4:00 pm and it is the original memorial service that Tim Houchen, probably one of the OC’s most well-known people, started in 2014 and continues to organize via his not-for-profit Hope4Restoration with help from Housing is a Human Right Coalition and OCCCOPICO.
Anaheim Cemetery, much to my surprise, was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. We entered it by the East gate and it was easy to spot the memorial. We were able to bring bouquets of flowers or pick up a long-stemmed rose to lay at the Memorial Wall with the 244 names and poster size photos that Tim had lovingly crafted. We were late and so we missed the invocation by Fr. Dennis Kriz. We were in time to hear the keynote speaker Gustavo Arellano as well as listen to Patrick Hogan, Kimberly Sondoval, and Denise whose mom Lisa was one of the people who died this year. You can read Patrick’s description of another death last year here in UCI’s InSight Magazine, and read Kim’s story, perhaps even buy a painting of Kimberly by the artist Brian Peterson / Faces of Santa Ana. There were refreshments and opportunities to chat with people informally and empathize with their grief as they mourned friends who’d died. Finally, there was a traditional candle lighting ceremony in front of the memorial wall. Tim’s program guide also had the 244 names printed.
The second memorial service was by the Interfaith Council of Greater Rancho Santa Margarita and St. John Chrystostom Church at Rancho Santa Margarita.
St. John Chrysostom Episcopal Church was also in the middle of a residential area!!! I arrived late, right as the Quran Verse was being recited, into what appeared to be, to me, a traditional interfaith service held in the courtyard of the church. The courtyard was crowded with people and hauntingly beautiful with candle-lights and music groups all around. I took three videos clips, very short and sad but also inspiring and memorable: 1) Jennings Gardner leading the community in the singing of the last verse of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother; 2) Mindful Context by Jim Leach highlighting the violence and hate towards homeless people, right here in the OC; and 3) after The Reading of the Names – by many different members of the community – when we all stood up for the Kaddish for the Mourners by Rabbi Heather Miller. Complete photo albums and videos along with more information about both memorials are linked and tabled way below.
In Christian traditions, today, the last Sunday the fourth candle of the Advent wreath is lighted. Some call it the Candle of Love, others the Angel’s Candle of Peace. Peace or love, it is light. Let us be light in a world that is dark for too many of our neighbors. Let us educate those who unknowingly exclude the poor and the homeless. May we be the light restoring dignity, and ensuring safe, healthy housing for all.
About the Advent Wreath photo: Our family’s traditional Advent Wreath. This year I’ve placed the tea-light gift given at the RSM Interfaith Memorial atop the Indian wick-burning lamp which serves as the Christ Candle. On Christmas Day we will light the Indian lamp with a wick in ghee, and the tea-light will burn too as an inspiring reminder.
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (song):
Hate Crimes against homeless people are on the rise:
The Mourners Kaddish for the 244+ OC unsheltered people who died this year:
Video tribute by Tom Houchen and you can also read his own journey out of homelessness: