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FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Ceremony keeps alive memory of deceased homeless

20 homeless memorial 1

Participants watch as Don O'Conner rings a bell honoring homeless people who have died in the past year during the Homeless Persons Memorial Day ceremony at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Fairfield, Thursday. O'Conner used to be homeless and now works with the homeless in Solano County. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

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From page A1 | December 20, 2013 | 1 Comment

FAIRFIELD — Thirteen times, the gold, table-top bell rang in the courtyard of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, commemorating the local homeless who have died.

People ringing the bell took part in the Homeless Persons Memorial Day on Thursday afternoon. Some bell-ringers mentioned the names of the deceased. One fought back her tears.

Don O’Conner, who was once homeless, knows homeless people who have died. And he knows the reasons.

“Some of train deaths,” he said before the ceremony. “Suicide. Hypothermia. Brutal attacks. No medication treatments. Diabetes.”

O’Conner is vice chairman of the Solano County Healthcare for the Homeless Advisory Board, which sponsored the event. He goes to homeless camps to try to get the homeless connected with local services.

Katherine Taley lives in a homeless camp. She, too, knows homeless who have died and came to remember them. More homeless seemed to have died this year than in previous years, she said.

“It might be the percentages,” she said. “This year, there are more people out there homeless. It might be because it’s been seriously cold out there.”

No one knows how many Solano County homeless people died this past year, said Ruth Forney of the Healthcare for the Homeless Advisory Board. She’s talked with the coroner and deaths aren’t tracked that way.

Tracy Singh talked about her experience being homeless about a decade ago.

“I was addicted to drugs, suffered from mental illness,” she said. “I had little or no hope for my future. I wasn’t present in the lives of my family, my children.”

She got help from Mission Solano and other local groups.

“I’m just really grateful this county has services to help people like me,” Singh said.

She rang the bell for a homeless person she knew who hung out at Allan Witt Park during the day and lived in a camp.

“She got sick and she didn’t get the help she needed,” Singh said. “She didn’t utilize the services provided in the community, which is sad.”

Raymond Courtemanche of Mission Solano addressed the gathering.

“There should be no reason someone should have to die on the streets because of the cold because no one was willing to extend a hand,” Courtemanche said.

The Rev. Todd Bertani of St. Mark’s gave the closing remarks.

“We want to remember those who might die – and we don’t want them to,” Bertani said. “We want to remember those on the street tonight.”

A chilly wind on the sunny afternoon gave a hint of what would come. The National Weather Service predicted a low of 36 degrees early Friday morning, though that is more than 10 degrees warmer that during the recent cold snap.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
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  • cindiDecember 20, 2013 - 5:26 am

    Even though I was not able to be there my heart was. One of those bells was for my nephew David Chambers. I hope he hears our prayers.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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