Kevin Valine

Modesto News: Downtown mural remembers homeless man

A mural on J Street near Tenth Street in downtown Modesto is pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. The mural is of Rick Hernstedt, a longtime homeless man who died in September. Defense attorney Martin Baker, with the help of two friends, painted the mural last week as a way to honor Hernstedt and to spark a community conversation about the homeless and homelessness in Modesto.
A mural on J Street near Tenth Street in downtown Modesto is pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. The mural is of Rick Hernstedt, a longtime homeless man who died in September. Defense attorney Martin Baker, with the help of two friends, painted the mural last week as a way to honor Hernstedt and to spark a community conversation about the homeless and homelessness in Modesto. jlee@modbee.com

A new downtown mural honors the memory of one of its former residents — Rick Hernstedt, a homeless man who died in September at the age of 54 after being hit by a car.

The black-and-white-and-gray mural is on the J Street side of Raltson’s Goat, a restaurant, coffee bar and bar that opened in December at J and 10th streets. Defense attorney Martin Baker – who paints and draws in his spare time – created the mural last week with the help of friends Phil Murillo and Karrie Bullock. The mural is based on a portrait of Hernstedt taken by former Modesto Bee photographer Adrian Mendoza.

Baker said he hopes the mural also sparks a community conversation about the homeless and homelessness.

“I’m not an expert on such things as defining the homeless problem,” Baker said. “But the discussion should not include how do we make them less of an inconvenience to us who have jobs, homes and families. If we accept the benefits of modern capitalism, we have to accept what comes with it: large numbers of homeless people. They are part of our community.”

Baker said Hernstedt slept in the doorway of the City Center Professional Offices at 11th and J streets, where Baker works. “He’d huddle up in the corner,” Baker said, “and eat crackers and drink water. As much as he could, he’d mind his own business.”

Several others who work downtown had good memories of Hernstedt.

Preservation Coffee & Tea employee Monique Quintero said she and her boyfriend saw Hernstedt at night and said he was never a problem, except for trying to a bum a cigarette. She said he told great stories about his life. “He was pretty cool,” Quintero said.

But others said Hernstedt could spew obscenities at them.

He was among the 26 homeless men and women who died throughout Stanislaus County in the past year who were remembered Dec. 21 at a candlelight vigil at the Salvation Army’s Berberian Homeless Shelter and Transitional Living Center. He died after being struck by a car about 5 a.m. Sept. 15. Police spokeswoman Heather Graves said Hernstedt was crossing I Street while the light was red.

Family members, who asked not to be identified, said in phone interviews last month that Hernstedt had been homeless for at least 11 years and they had lost contact with him. They were considering hiring a private investigator before learning of his death. They said he struggled with mental illness and substance abuse.

Ralston’s Goat co-owner Chelsea Addison-Torres said the response to the mural has been positive. She said the mural is important because of the perspective it brings to the discussion regarding the homeless by letting us see one of them as a person. “Sometimes this is something that is seen as a group situation,” she said, “and we don’t see the individual.”

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316

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