235 homeless people who have died in Orange County will be remembered at these 2018 memorial services – OCRegister

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A onetime ’60s soul singer who counted Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers among her admirers.
A family of four, including a 9-month-old baby, that slept at night in a van.
The brother of a state assemblywoman who had struggled with alcoholism most of his adult life.
Betty Jane Willis, the Kanyavong family and Raymond William Jaso are names that strangers came to know in 2018.
The stories about the lives and deaths of these homeless people generated news coverage as their family and friends publicly mourned personal losses. But they are among more than 200 homeless people who lost their lives on the streets of Orange County this past year.
All will be remembered on Friday, Dec. 21, at local memorial services to mark National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day.
Willis, 76, was beaten and choked during an attempted sexual assault as she slept outside a Santa Ana business in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day.
Phunyouphone Kanyavong, 41, Michelle Ha, a month shy of her 21st birthday, and their two children, a girl named Nikki, not yet 2, and their 9-month-old infant son died in March, the apparent victims of carbon monoxide poisoning as they slept in a van parked at a strip mall.
Jaso, 52, was killed in October when the bicycle he rode collided with a pickup truck in Buena Park. He had fallen off the wagon after several months of sobriety. His sister, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, shared news of his death and his struggles on social media.
The annual remembrance always takes place on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year and the first day of winter — a particularly tough season for those without shelter, even in the relatively mild climate of Southern California.
To those holding the services, recognition of lives prematurely shortened by the circumstances of their harsh living conditions — violence, exposure to the elements, drug and alcohol addiction, untreated illnesses — is one way to give them some dignity in death.
“As people of faith, we are all called to remember the dignity of all God’s people, but in a special and particular way the poor and marginalized,” said Greg Walgenbach, director of Life, Justice, and Peace for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which is co-sponsoring an interfaith memorial service on the Christ Cathedral grounds in Garden Grove.
“In a time with increased response from the community we nonetheless are seeing an increase in homelessness and an increase in numbers of those dying on the streets.”
The National Coalition for the Homeless first observed the memorial day in 1990. It has come to be marked by ceremonies in communities around the country.
The Orange County coroner’s office compiles an annual spreadsheet on the deaths of people with “no fixed abode,” meaning they were homeless. That list is used to cull names for the memorial services, along with names submitted by people in the community.
Several of those to be remembered were men and women who once lived in the tents along the Santa Ana River Trail. They died after the riverbed encampments were dismantled, leaving a supportive community.
At the 7 p.m. Christ Cathedral service — co-sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, Our Father’s Table and HomeAid Orange County — candles will be lit during a ceremony for each of 235 names to be recalled, including 24 men and women who died during December 2017. Various faith leaders will speak at the ceremony in the cathedral’s arboretum, 13280 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove.
Another 7 p.m. service will take place at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 30382 Via Con Dios, Rancho Santa Margarita, sponsored by St. John’s, Hands of Grace and the Interfaith Council of South Orange County.
Earlier in the day, Hope 4 Restoration will hold a 4 p.m. gathering at Anaheim Cemetery, 1400 E Sycamore St., Anaheim. Hope 4 Restoration is a grassroots organization started by advocate Tim Houchen of Anaheim, who once slept at the Santa Ana Civic Center.
Every year since 2014, Houchen has been honoring the lives of homeless people whose deaths often go unnoticed.  Last year, an artist created a portable mock stone memorial wall that Houchen will again use to display names.
In looking at the 2018 coroner’s list of homeless people who had died, one name in particular jumped out at Houchen: Archie Tobe.
Tobe died Nov. 10, less than two months after his 70th birthday. The cause of death is pending results of toxicology tests.
Houchen remembered that Tobe had been the lead plaintiff in an early 1990s lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of anti-camping laws in Santa Ana.
Such ordinances have been a frequent legal battleground here and in communities around the country, including the ongoing civil rights lawsuit in federal court over the clearing of tent encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail.
The 1995 California Supreme Court decision in Tobe vs. City of Santa Ana upheld the local ordinance, reversing a state appellate court finding that Santa Ana was violating the rights of homeless people like Tobe.
“That’s one of the cases that’s still relevant,” Houchen said.
Houchen said he had met Tobe multiple times and had heard at some point that Tobe had found work as a truck driver. But, Houchen said, “I guess he had a drug problem.”
Such struggles were common among the homeless people to be commemorated on national memorial day, said Gina Seriel, founder of Our Father’s Table, a south county homeless outreach service. Since she started working with homeless people, Seriel said she’s personally known 20 who lost their lives while on the streets.
“These people who live on the streets that society labels as drunks, ‘crazy’, addicts, criminals and bums, i.e. the discarded by our society, for me they are my friends,” Seriel said. “They are genuine, kind, giving, loving, folks who are fighting demons, who are hurt and hurting.”
It is the hope at the memorial services that others may come to see homeless people that same way.
Said Houchen: “We provide an opportunity to be informed and educated so that they have a better understanding of the harsh realities of homelessness and greater awareness of the need for a more collaborative approach to creating solutions that would end it.”
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