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Vigils honor homeless who died in the last year

The names of the dead were read aloud during the 2016 vigil at The Salvation Army’s Berberian Center in Modesto to remember the homeless.
The names of the dead were read aloud during the 2016 vigil at The Salvation Army’s Berberian Center in Modesto to remember the homeless. aalfaro@modbee.com

Homeless people who have died in the last year will be honored Thursday evening at candlelight vigils in Modesto and Turlock as part of the National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, joining other vigils being held across the nation.

This will be at least the 12th year that a memorial has been held in Modesto. The event remembers those who died throughout Stanislaus County. This is the first year for a Turlock memorial, which will remember the homeless who died in that city and its environs.

“We are all important,” said Debbie Gutierrez, one of the organizers of the Turlock vigil and manager of the We Care Program shelter, which provides beds for 49 men. “This sounds like a cliche, but we all matter. The people in the homeless community want to be remembered. You have to have closure, to know you were important in someone’s eyes.”

The Modesto vigil starts at 7:15 p.m. and will be held at The Salvation Army’s Berberian Shelter & Transitional Living Center, 320 Ninth St. But volunteers will be on hand from 2:30 to 5 p.m. to hand out coffee and cocoa to the homeless men and women who will be checking into the shelter for the evening.

The Turlock vigil starts at 5:15 p.m. in the We Care Program parking lot, 219 South Broadway. Volunteers will pass out coffee and soup to the homeless checking into the shelter before the vigil.

Gutierrez said 16 homeless people have died in the Turlock area in the past year. She said the vigil will honor them as well as other Turlock-area homeless men and women who died in previous years. Modesto organizers still were compiling their list of names as of Tuesday.

She said organizers include We Care, United Samaritans Foundation, the Turlock Gospel Mission, former mission director Jeff Woods and St. Francis Episcopal Church. Sponsors of the Modesto vigil include Golden Valley Health Centers, The Salvation Army and the county’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services department.

The National Coalition for the Homeless along with the National Consumer Advisory Board and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council encourage communities to hold memorials on or near Dec. 21 to remember the homeless in their communities who died in the last year, according to the coalition’s website.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316

How to help

Both vigils need socks, hats, gloves and scarves to give to the homeless. The Turlock vigil also needs coats and blankets. Turlock donations can be made by contacting the We Care shelter at 209-620-2414 or debbie@wecareturlock.org. Modesto donations can be made by contacting Kimberlee Hamilton Anderson at 209-312-0940 or khamilton@stanbhrs.org, or Susan Jones at 209-322-5892 or susanthepoet@gmail.com. The Modesto vigil also needs volunteers to hand out clothing and hot drinks to the homeless before the vigil.

People also can can call or email to have the names of homeless loved ones included in the vigils.

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