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Poverty

[Society]

Naming the dead

A small ceremony remembers the homeless who perished this year

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Homeless Memorial Candlelight Vigil at Christ the King Catholic Church.
Photo: Iris Dumuk

From the sixth floor of the City Hall parking garage, south side, Robert Jason Searcy would’ve had a clear view of the rooftop satellite dishes on a municipal building straight ahead. Further out, to the left, he could’ve seen the El Cortez, and a little to the right, the Fremont Street Experience canopy. It’s not much of a view, particularly; it’s lonely up here, and the city seems dirty and forgetful. If he stood here at the ledge, next to this low cement wall topped with steel cables meant to keep you from falling, or jumping, he may have seen the big red letters on the building to the west: “LADY LUCK.” Below is a small alley, with a Dumpster, next to a small, hidden parking lot. Searcy was a 39-year-old homeless man. On October 7, he was found in the alley, dead from blunt force trauma, which the coroner ruled a suicide.

On Thursday evening, volunteers read his name, along with 47 others, at the Homeless Memorial Candlelight Vigil outside Christ the King Catholic Church. Since 1996, homeless advocates led by Linda Lera-Randle El of Straight From the Streets have held this vigil annually to honor those who died and recommit themselves to ending homelessness in Las Vegas.

In 2005, 75 people died on the streets here; in 2006, 78; in 2007, 51; and this year, 48. Lera-Randle El attributes the decline in recent years to the increase in community effort to help people get off the streets and assist them in getting treatment for chronic health problems or substance-abuse issues. About 10,000 people are homeless in Clark County.

“We are making some difference. People are trying to work together—government, private citizens, small nonprofits—and we’re seeing some progress,” Lera-Randle El says. “It takes patience and forgiveness. I think sometimes we don’t know that somebody else hurts that bad.”

Jack Dudley Cook died here in the dirt in a lot at Fremont and Atlantic where hundreds of cars pass every day. It was June 23, hot—Cook, 55, died from environmental heat stress and pulmonary emphysema.

Others died in similar circumstances—from being outside in inclement weather: Francisco Diaz, 38, was found on the rooftop of a bathroom in Lorenzi Park, dead from heat exposure in August. James Peter Rasmussen Jr. was found on the northwest corner of Owens and Las Vegas Boulevard, in the homeless corridor, dead from heat stress and dilated cardiomyopathy, also in August. Fifty-two-year-old David Joseph Yob died from cold exposure in February; he was found on a cement trailer pad. Jocelyn Borromeo, 48, died from bronchopneumonia in the desert off of Losee Road in March.

Others died in the streets from substance-abuse problems. Gregg Koltz, 45, was found by a friend behind a Food 4 Less; he’d had liver failure from alcoholism. Louis Martin Mares, 50, died from methamphetamine intoxication and dehydration near the railroad tracks.

Several were murdered. On the night of April 11, a 911 call reporting shots fired and a female down led Metro officers to find 37-year-old homeless woman Twila Naomi Cline in the driveway of the Travelers Motel on Fremont, under a sign that says, “Your best bet in Las Vegas.” Eduardo Velasquez, 26, was stabbed and died on a sidewalk Downtown. Others committed suicide—William Arthur Kupke, 22, hanged himself in Freedom Park.

About 50 people gathered in the courtyard of Christ the King, bundled up in hats and scarves as the sun set Thursday. Some were homeless themselves, remembering friends; many were advocates from social-service organizations such as the Salvation Army, Nevada Health Centers and HELP of Southern Nevada. Rabbis and pastors spoke and prayed, and candles were lit in memory of the dead.

“We are doing better than we used to,” Lera-Randle El said from the podium. “I appreciate those of you who are working hard. It is only together that we’re going to make any movement.”

She noted one sign of progress happening that night, the night after the heaviest snowfall in years: warming stations around town for the homeless, which weren’t provided in years past.

“There are people out there who have not forgotten your plight,” Lera-Randle El said.

As the quiet ceremony ended, the driver of a truck full of donated “survival bags” filled with toiletries started up his engine, and members of Straight From the Streets headed out to distribute them.

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