Houseless People In Los Angeles Are Using Mobile Memorials To Humanize And Grieve The Deaths Of Their Community Members

Dec 21 is designated as National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day and vigils are held throughout the country. Nathaniel VerGow, the deputy chief of systems at the LA Homeless Services Authority, said it’s been difficult to host this event over the last few years due to COVID. But VerGow said the mobile memorials Henderson organizes help put a human face to the issue of homelessness.

“I think every life deserves to be honored and so I think it’s fantastic that somebody is making the space to honor the lives of folks who are often not only forgotten but are denigrated and mistreated by our society,” he said.

Halcyon Selfmade, an activist, advocate, and artist, moved to Los Angeles in 2018 after being evicted from his apartment in Tennessee. He attended the memorial as a former unhoused person and said that in the last six weeks, he’d heard of three people who had died while unhoused.

“The survivor’s guilt is real,” he said. “I lived outside for three years, and that’s a fraction of the time that most people who live outside in LA. I know people that have been outside five, 10, 15 years, and here I am. I got a place and I made it out alive.”

Selfmade said it was important for him to come to the memorial and honor those who had died. He said people experiencing homelessness are in survival mode and that it’s important to understand that dependency issues and compromised mental health are factors, not a cause.

“When you have to stay awake 24 hours a day to make sure your tent doesn’t get set on fire, when you have to kill the pain from moving your things every day or every week … you’re going to find whatever works to get you through that next day,” he said.

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