People who died without family were recognized last week. Courtesy photo.

To pay homage to the homeless individuals who have died in the region throughout the last year, members of the Westside Coalition and Saint Monica’s Catholic Community gathered last week for their annual Homeless Memorial Service.

In typical years, local coalition members honor the dead at Reed Park but this year’s celebration of life was forced to be live-streamed due to Covid-19. So, residents, friends and the service providers who often come into contact with the deceased were encouraged to submit names that were eventually read during the Interfaith Service, which featured words from Monsignor Lloyd Torgerson, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels and Jamshid Ashourian.

“Of course, the number one thing we do is try to remember the men and women who have lived in or with homelessness in our area and have died,” said St. Monica’s Pastoral Associate Delis Alejandro. “We want to make sure that they will be remembered.”

Alejandro has worked as an employee with St. Monica’s for more than two decades and she said in an interview following last week’s service that the event has been happening for as long as she can remember.

“The first couple years we tried December because in our country a lot of places do a homeless memorial service in December or around that time of year called ‘The Longest Night,” Alejandro said.

The timing didn’t work in Santa Monica for various reasons but the memorial has since found a home at the corner of Wilshire and Lincoln, where locals will gather on a sunny Santa Monica afternoon once a year to lay flowers, say a kind word or simply stand off in the distance and pay tribute silently.

“We had already talked about coming inside before now, so, tentatively, we had it scheduled to occur as a big gathering in the church. And then, of course, COVID came,” Alejandro said. “But we, like many congregations, have had to turnover and adapt by doing several live streams. So we picked a Wednesday because it would offer more of an opportunity for others to tune in.”

As she detailed the event, which was complete with music, a detailed reading of names and much more, Coalition Director Darci Niva said, “I thought it was a beautiful job. It’s a little crazy to set up… but I’m glad we have it because this service is a very important thing to the community.

“I mean we’ve been doing that for over two decades, and it’s a beautiful thing for people because the reality is many of these folks are by themselves at the point when they died,” Darci added. “The only person that might have reached out to them might be a social worker, a hospital worker or the last doctor they saw on a help team. So it’s also for them, because they want to make sure these people are remembered too. Because people are dying — we see it happening, but we need to recognize it, and specifically recognize the lives of people living on our streets.”

“Another nice thing about doing it virtually like we did this year is we can now send it to the various congregations and also to all the agencies and places who help those who may have passed,” Alejandro said. “And they could even show it there at their sites for people to see anytime.”