Honor for the unhoused in San Jose

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Last month saw the second annual memorial to people who had died homeless in this city, located 42mi southeast of San Francisco. Among the participants in this interfaith event was Rowan Fairgrove from Covenant of the Goddess. She agreed to share more about the event and her work in this area with The Wild Hunt.

homeless memorial

[Image credit: Steve Herrera]

According to the 2015 Point-in-Time Count for Santa Clara County, there were 6,556 people without homes there in January of that year, which is the month that these counts are performed throughout the Unites States. Of that total figure, 4,063 people are located in the city of San Jose. Since 2013, the numbers have dropped by 14% in the county, and by 15% in the city. That marks a 10 year low.

While those numbers are high, the trends do show a decline in the total number of unhoused, which is the term Fairgrove prefers. However, Fairgrove said that the official figure “leaves off people doubling up or couch surfing and thus undercounts families by a lot.” Her own work to support the unhoused comes both from her religious beliefs and her own experience. She said:

I believe, deeply, in the interconnectedness of all life. And in our ability to make the world a better place, for humans and for all living things and the earth. But my specific desire to help the unhoused came from having a woman decide that my porch, sheltered by a wisteria, was a safe place to sleep occasionally. I had many conversations with her and tried to work with the city to get her help without much success.

The impacts of homelessness, and the impacts of how the problem is addressed, can be complicated. Fairgrove recounted how she supported the closure of a homeless camp in San Jose, because its presence put a local watershed — one she’d worked to protect — at risk. In November, she attended a screening of a movie about that closure called Exodus from the Jungle (2015), and this led to her re-ordering her priorities.

“I hadn’t realized how much impact the closing of the Jungle had on the ability of service providers (such as the medical bus from a local hospital) to reach the unhoused population,” she explained, “nor had I realized that our city and county have been spending thousands of dollars a month to ‘move along’ any groups that start to camp together. This makes it even harder for service providers to find people who need help. With the coming El Nino conditions in Northern California we are expecting unusual amounts of rain and cold and the situation for the unhoused is predicted to be quite dire.”

Those without shelter are subject to exposure to these harsh elements, but there are some among the unhoused who prefer that risk to the rules and dangers associated with homeless shelters. According to the 2015 survey, there are 4,627 people living without shelter, which is over 70% of the total unhoused population of Santa Clara County.

For 61 of them, “quite dire” meant death this year. Their names were read during the service. Several religious leaders offered thoughts and prayers, including this from Fairgrove:

Prayer of Remembrance for the Homeless Who Died this Year

Your life has flown, all care is gone,
Yet still we wish the best for you
Though you left this world without a home
You are going home now to the Isle of Apples.
To the restful haven of the waveless sea.
You are finally home this night,
To your lasting home, your eternal home

Deep peace of seven lights to you
Deep peace of seven joys to you
Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the silver moon to you

Now is your time of rest, of parting
Rest now on the breast of the Mother of Blessings,
Rest now in the arms of the Father of Life.
We hold you in memory
We hold you in mourning
We hold you in honour

Deep peace of seven graces to you
Deep peace of seven loves to you
Deep peace of the red wind of the east to you
Deep peace of the grey wind of the west to you
Deep peace of the dark wind of the north to you
Deep peace of the blue wind of the south to you

We will remember the tragedy of homelessness
We will not forget your Life
We will not cease our work
Until all are finally home in this Life
Until all have warmth and plenty
Until all have comfort and protection

Let us join together to send healing for the hurts of homelessness
Let us send hope and growth, to replace cold and fear.
Let us send respect and inspiration, to replace despair and sorrow
Let us create a circle of protection.
Let us create a circle of healing.
Let us create a circle of justice.
Let us create a circle of renewal.
And let us envision these circles as a spiral, see them repeat, spreading out until through all the world may peace prevail and all be home
In the Names of the Mighty Ones and the Beloved Dead
Biodh sé mar sin — So Mote It Be!

Beyond participating in this memorial, Fairgrove serves breakfast at a local church shelter, and has encouraged the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, a local interfaith group, to hold a leadership forum on the topic. “From various showings of Exodus from the Jungle, a group came together which is now called The Winter Faith Collaborative. Over the past two months we have gathered together about 40 congregations who plan to shelter, warm, feed or otherwise help the homeless,” she explained.

This is not the only memorial for the homeless dead in the region; the Marin Interfaith Council also conducts such a service in July.