SANTA CRUZ — The 20th annual Homeless Memorial Ceremony was held Thursday morning at the Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz. The event, open to the public, is about paying respect to those that died while experiencing homelessness.

Numerous speakers, including friends of the deceased, took turns at the podium at the solemn ceremony to deliver words of respect for the recorded 55 people that died in 2018. On top of that, an additional 17 people were on the list as dying due to a form of homelessness.

“I remember last year’s memorial and I recall some of the names of those people that died, names that came from the coroner’s office,” said Lawrence Tawil, who said he has been homeless for the past 16 months. “These people that we hear about have died over the last year and are just the people that we hear about. I’m sure there are a lot more.”

“What I’ve realized is that a lot of these people that have died were my clients over the years,” said Matt Nathanson of the Homeless Persons Health Project.

He said he was particularly concerned that he’s seeing more seniors on the homeless list.

“And we’re seeing more people that die in their cars,” he added. “And there are folks that died from physical trauma, coronary disease and cancer.”

The Homeless Persons Health Project said that 87 percent of the people that died over the year were male, 13 percent female and 13 percent were veterans.

Nathanson went on to read a list of occupations that the deceased held, including house cleaners, janitors, landscapers, plumbers, caregivers and “workers.”

Matthew Puruiz, who said he has been homeless for the past 16 years, said he felt strongly about the deceased.

“I’ve been out here on the streets and I’m so sad for these names, the ones that have died,” he said. “I was once a handyman and built houses. Now I’m out here on the streets. You know, you get stuck out here and you get into a rut and that’s where I’m at. You live one day at a time; and I see people that just lose it and suddenly they’re gone.”

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