To the tune of “This Little Light of Mine,” some two hundred people marched through the Tenderloin to City Hall Friday afternoon, clutching poles with banners imprinted with the names of homeless people who died this past year.
Advocates for the homeless estimate at least 241 people died on the streets and in single room occupancy hotels in 2018 — up from an estimated 200 last year — but say the actual number is likely much higher. Some of the banners at Friday’s event memorialized those who died and could not be identified.
The Solstice funeral procession through the Tenderloin, part of an annual event to draw attention to the mortality of San Francisco’s most vulnerable residents, was hosted by Skywatchers, a collective of professional artists and Tenderloin residents.
“Each person is a human being and each person’s life was something. That person was a whole universe and it’s the least we can do to spend a couple of hours holding that person’s name into the air,” said Anne Bluethenthal, Skywatcher’s founder and director.
The volunteers marched from the Tenderloin’s Kelly Cullen Community, an affordable housing community, to the steps of City Hall, joining an annual vigil hosted by the Coalition on Homelessness and the San Francisco Interfaith Council at the Civic Center’s United Nations Plaza.
Volunteer Jhia Jackson said that it is easy to forget the human element of homelessness, even when engaging in advocacy work.
“Even for me, walking through the Tenderloin and seeing people lying on the streets and walking around them but then participating in this — it’s just a reminder that these are real lives, real people,” said Jackson.
Giving a name to the often faceless is important, said Jackson, “especially in this day and age.”
“There is a very thin line between those of us who have a home and those of us who do not have one,” she said.
Faith leaders and homeless people took turns reading long lists of names out loud at the UN Plaza vigil. Among them are Leroy Brown, 86. Joe Boxer, 75. Cosmic Charlie, no age given.
“We don’t want this service next year. We don’t want people dying on the street. I want it to be less,” Pastor Maggie Henderson of the SF Interfaith Council said.
After the list of names was read, bystanders walked up to the microphone and added more names of people who weren’t included
“These are the people whose names are not remembered by many… but tonight they are not forgotten,” Henderson said.