REED PARK — Police found Diana Priester’s body on Lincoln Boulevard near the German American Club at the end of August.
She’d been living on the streets again, drinking again.
When a homeless person dies on the streets of Santa Monica, a county coroner comes out to pronounce them dead and then the body is sent to the Los Angeles County Morgue.
Often the bodies of the homeless are not claimed and the remains are cremated, then stored for two years. If the cremains are not claimed, they’re buried in a common grave at the Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.
Priester was homeless, but she wasn’t alone, said Santa Monica Police Officer Jacob Holloway, who kept a photo of her with her favorite dog in the visor of his police car.
Priester is one of several homeless Santa Monicans who’ve died in the last year who will be honored at the Homeless Memorial Service on Sunday at Reed Park. This is the fifth or sixth year (no one can remember exactly) for the service sponsored by the Westside Shelter & Hunger Coalition and St. Monica Catholic Community.
“We know them maybe better than anyone else does,” Holloway said of the homeless. “We have a relationship with a lot of these people that pass away, in some cases in a very friendly manner.”
Twice Priester had moved into apartments with the help of police and social service members, but her bouts with alcohol made the adjustment unsustainable.
Although she didn’t have much family, police officers, members of all the shelter agencies, and other homeless people genuinely cared about her, Holloway said.
“She was a lot of fun. She was so stubborn that she would come across as very crass,” he said. “She’d tell me, ‘get the hell out of here!’ and then blow me a kiss.”
OPCC Executive Director John Maceri said that several formerly homeless people died indoors this year, something he felt conflicted about.
“Our staff works so hard with people and you see them come through,” he said. “It’s euphoria when they get their own apartment, the day they get the key, the deposit, and moving day, and furnishing the apartment. Each step of the way, they’re overcoming barriers. And then they pass. There’s a sadness.”
It’s also gratifying.
“They died with dignity,” he said. “They died indoors, and died knowing that people cared about them.”
OPCC has seen more deaths in the past five years because they’re serving a more vulnerable population, Maceri said.
“Life on the streets will age people,” he said. “We work with people who are 40 and 50 years old who have the organs of 70- and 80-year olds. Life on the streets is harsh. Nutrition isn’t always good. Harshness of elements. Sometimes you can’t reverse years of someone who hasn’t been getting regular healthcare.”
Holloway, who is a member of the police department’s homeless taskforce, spoke at last year’s memorial service and he plans to attend this year.
“When people think of a homeless person passing away, they think no one cared,” Holloway said. “But police officers, they develop a friendship. When people see police talking to a homeless person they think we’re picking on them. What people don’t realize is that they’re trying to guide them into a shelter, or into rehab.”
About 50 people came out to the memorial last year, said Delis Alejandro, of St. Monica’s, who helped organize the event. At least 14 people are on the list to be memorialized this year.
Alejandro will remember one in particular. Nancy Treutalaar, a parish member, helped organize the event every year. She died earlier this month. Treutalaar was homeless for a period of her life, but not at the time of her death.
“Nancy knew better than anyone what it was like to be alone and unknown,” Alejandro said. “When someone sees a homeless person, they might think they’re going to ask for money and so they move away. She knew that better than anybody. But, she’s not nameless. She’s not unnamed and unknown.”
The Homeless Memorial Service will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at Reed Park.