Thursday, December 19, 2002
Today is the 18th Annual Homeless Memorial Service in Minnesota. It's part of a national remembrance of people who died over the past year while homeless. In recent years, as we've gotten more organized and I've backed away from direct service and management, my part in the preparations has shrunk to doing the flyers and program. A few days ago, I saw the list of names of people who died for the first time. I knew about twenty out of the 94 people. Some of the deaths I already knew about. The shelter staff tries to remember to let me know when they hear things, but because I'm not attending staff meetings anymore I missed some people. We try to get as much information as we can about how people died, but a lot of times we don't know. As usual, there were a number of murder victims. Being homeless can be really dangerous. I'd love to have a year go by just once without someone being beaten to death. A few died from the effects of paint sniffing, drug abuse or alcholism. I think of those deaths as deaths caused by despair. One of the paint sniffers had only recently switched to paint from alcohol. I'd known him for years and it was tough to see the deterioration. I don't think they realize how deadly it can be. When I started working here, I had no idea that I'd be learning things like the reason the huffers (paint sniffers) choose silver and gold spray paint is that it tastes better than the other colors. Anyways, the paint sniffer loved computers. About 8 years ago, I gave him a donated used one that he was able to keep for a while in his rented room. He had to give it up when he lost the room. One time I asked him if he spoke Spanish because I needed translating help. He laughed and said, "Are you kidding? I was born in the barrio in LA. I don't speak Spanish."