It took 52 minutes yesterday to read the names of all the people who were homeless, previously homeless or on the edge of homelessness who died in the Seattle area in 2004. A candle was lit...
It took 52 minutes yesterday to read the names of all the people who were homeless, previously homeless or on the edge of homelessness who died in the Seattle area in 2004.
A candle was lit for each person. In the end, 152 tea lights flickered atop a makeshift altar in the Millionair Club on Seattle’s Western Avenue. After the last candle was lit for “transitional housing client, last name Smith,” a moment of silence was held for all those who died nameless.
“The list this year is longer than it’s ever been,” said Pastor Sue Wanwig of the Compass Center, a Seattle-based service center for homeless and low-income people that has organized the annual memorial service for 23 years.
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Wanwig told the group of about 30 mourners that a handful of the names belonged to young people who died before 2004 in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, but whose deaths hadn’t been reported to the Compass Center. Three names belonged to people who have died so far this year.
Another reason the 2004 list is so long is, in large part, because of efforts by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office to notify groups like the Compass Center of homeless deaths, said Pat Simpson, pastor at the Church of Mary Magdalene, a congregation for homeless women.
Last year, the local group Women In Black — which holds candlelight vigils any time a homeless person dies on the streets — formally asked the medical examiner to compile the names of people who were either found dead outdoors or who died in local hospitals with no known addresses, Simpson said.
Now, the medical examiner releases a quarterly spreadsheet that indicates the cause and location of each death, the person’s approximate age, race and, if it can be determined, his or her name, she said.
“Aside from the basic principle that everyone should be remembered at the time of their death, for me the importance of this service is being confronted with the mass of candles and that long list of names,” Simpson said.
Many of those who gathered for the service knew firsthand the struggles of life on the streets.
For the past six months, Paige Crapo, 50, has lived at the Compass Center. She knew about the deaths of four friends last year — but was shocked to hear the names of seven others read yesterday.
“One, I went to Western Washington University with — Delores Beamon, she was quite a character,” said Crapo, her eyes red from crying.
Joe Martin, 54, also recognized several names. A social worker at Pike Place Medical Clinic, Martin lamented the death of John Lester, “one of our city’s gems, a great jazzman and a veteran of the British Army in World War II.”
“He was a great piano player. He’s someone who is now playing jazz upstairs,” Martin said.
Santiago Garcia was remembered as a tireless volunteer, while Dinah Lane’s passion and gusto were recalled with affectionate laughter. Tony Seldin, a vagabond poet who wandered the country organizing impromptu readings, and Kevin Brookbank, a former journalist from Michigan, were also among those memorialized.
“We don’t compile our list to make a political statement,” Wanwig said after the service. “These are people who meant something to us. …
“In their lives, they had so little respect, so little recognition, so few people who knew about them. The least we can do is take enough time to light a candle.”
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or email@example.com