On the longest night of the year, scores gathered in Modesto and Turlock on Thursday evening to remember the roughly 40 homeless men and women who died in Stanislaus County in the last year.
“Each death is a bruise to the entire community,” said Dave Williams, who leads the Turlock Chaplaincy, as he read the names of the 17 homeless people who died in Turlock. The memorial was in the parking lot of the We Care Program shelter.
This is the first year Turlock has held a vigil, and the approximately 80 who gathered there also remembered 63 other homeless people who died in the city in recent years.
Modesto has held a vigil for at least a dozen years, and it was held Thursday outside of The Salvation Army’s Berberian Shelter & Transitional Living Center. It honored all of those who died throughout the county in the last year. The names of the homeless also were read aloud.
Organizers did not have an exact count because the list was being added to during the event, but they estimated the number who died at 40.
“This is a community I represent every day,” said Jessica Self, a Stanislaus County deputy public defender, who was among the roughly 100 people at the memorial. “They are underrepresented in pretty much every part of our community.
“It’s important that we come together to have an event like this so they are not forgotten. And so the people dealing with homelessness in our community understand there are those of us in the community who support them and want to help them.”
Candles were lighted to remember the homeless on the first day of winter and on a night that was forecast to reach a low of 30 degrees.
The Rev. Jeff Woods of First Christian Church, who has worked with Turlock’s homeless for years, led that city’s vigil. He said Turlock’s homeless people and advocates went to the Modesto ceremony for several years, but the time seemed right to have one in town.
Woods said of the 17 homeless who died in Turlock this year, six passed away in the last eight weeks: two as victims of homicide, two hit by trains, one struck by a car and one of natural causes.