Roughly 200 people marched through downtown and held a vigil for the homeless people who died this past year. Some held pairs of shoes and placed them on the steps of the County Administration Building, representing the 50 people who died between October 2009 through September 2010.
"This is a way to remember those who have died on the streets this past year, and also a call to action to make sure that this doesn't continue to happen," said Brian Maienschein, the Commissioner on Homelessness for the County of San Diego. Maienschein said there are about 8,500 homeless people in the County, 25% of those chronically homeless, including those mentally ill or suffering drug addiction. He said one-third of those are veterans.
The event was organized by the San Diego Rescue Mission and included several charitable organizations and numerous faith based groups. Herb Johnson, CEO of the Rescue Mission said he hopes people can help put an end to the memorials for those who die in the streets.
But officials and charitable groups pointed out that the ranks of the homeless have grown due to the difficult economy. It's a growing reminder that the homeless are not just comprised of the mentally ill and drug addicts. "We have people down here on the streets right now that were contractors, they are trades people, they were secretaries," said Bob McElroy of the Alpha Project, "We have one woman here who was an ICU nurse for 20 years."
McElroy has run the Winter Homeless Shelter on 16th St. and Island Ave. in the past. After some conversations with people on the streets on Sunday evening, he pointed out a familiar face, Julie Porter. He recognized the woman from past rummage sales run by the Thursday Club, a prominent social group based in Point Loma. Earlier this year she became homeless.
"I was deserted by my husband, I just lost my home that I owned for twenty years to foreclosure," said Porter. She now lives in a van with a friend and is waiting to get access to homeless shelters. Porter stays near 16th and Island because the local churches, charitable groups and residents are giving. "The wonderful people of San Diego come out and they feed us here on the streets. They bring us hot meals, cold meals, sandwiches, water," she said. "I was in the Thursday Club, a social group based in Point Loma. I was also a member of the Junior League of San Diego. It happens to the best of us," Porter said.