Jan Bernstein Chargin gilroy homeless memorial city hall
Jan Bernstein Chargin (right) was instrumental in heading up the Homeless Memorial Day at City Hall in Gilroy on Dec. 21. Photo: Tarmo Hannula
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An inaugural ceremony in Gilroy to recognize people that died over the year while unhoused was staged at Gilroy City Hall on Dec. 21. 

About 50 people gathered for the outdoor event that centered around 19 temporary “tombstones” that featured the names of unhoused people who died in Gilroy in 2023. 

Under cloudy, cool conditions, the names of the dead were read aloud by 16 people, some who also offered words of respect, remembrance and honor.

“This is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, which has become a spiritual thing for some,” said Robert Aguirre of the California Homeless Union, who said he was once homeless. “We have circled around this day to honor the people that have unnecessarily passed for various reasons. More often than not, these are people that are forgotten, that don’t even get a mention in the newspaper. There’s not even a story about how they died; they’re just invisible people. This is an opportunity to bring light to the darkness of their passing, but it also symbolizes that tomorrow starts the beginning of the days getting longer and longer. What we’re looking for is a change into the future.”

Aguirre added that there are very few resources in Gilroy for unhoused people. 

“One of our goals is to bring attention to the fact that we don’t have the reputation that we need here in Gilroy,” he said. “That we don’t have the services we need or we don’t have the attitude to care for the people that are here.”

The two-hour event, organized by the Silicon Valley Chapter of the California Homeless Union, coincided with National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, which was commemorated in 1990. 

“While we remember those we have lost this year, we cannot let this be the start of another year of growing homelessness,” organizers said.

While memorial events have been held in Santa Clara County since 2013, Dec. 21 marked the first memorial in Gilroy, which was spearheaded by the Gilroy Homeless Union.

Tim Davis, executive director of the South County Compassion Center, told the crowd that the average life expectancy for homeless people is 53 while those living in homes is 79.

“The number one cause of death,” he added, “was not drugs or alcohol, but rather undiagnosed, untreated medical conditions.”

The union said the main purpose of the gathering was “because they should be remembered; because their lives mattered; so people will know.”

Those named on the “tombstones” were Jorge Aguero, Alejandro Becerra Jr., David Boyer, William Bryant Bretherick III, Raul Ceja, Emily Faus, Alejandro Flores, Dolores Garcia, Abraham Gonzalez, Thomas McManus Jr., Michael Meyer Jr., Christopher Moeller, George Montes, Nathaniel Ortiz, Xaniyah Perez, Daniella Pierceall, Ysidro Renteria, Matthew Richardson and Alyssa Salazar.

Bettye Chargin gilroy homeless memorial city hall
Bettye Chargin places flowers on a temporary “tombstone” during the ceremony. Photo: Tarmo Hannula
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Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. More recently Good Times & Press Banner. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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