For every name, the harsh sting of the metal bell was heard.
Standing in a circle on the Third Street bridge in Napa Thursday night, the longest night of the year, a group of men and women read 118 names, all of homeless people who have died on Napa streets over the past 18 years. In some cases, the identities of those whose lives were being honored were unknown to the people of Napa.
“Man from the south,” read one participant.
After each of the 118 names came a ring of the bell and a flower tossed into the Napa River.
A combination of tears and cold rain ran down many faces. Many participants were remembering a relative or friend who died. One woman lost her brother, and one man lost his three-month-old daughter.
Juan Manriquez’s friend died recently because of an untreated injury.
“I feel good to be here. He was my friend and we always spent time together,” he said.
Some were too overwhelmed with grief to speak.
By the end of the vigil, a sea of multicolored flowers floated on the river.
“It’s upsetting because they are by themselves, many of these people go unknown or are unacknowledged because they don’t have families,” said Susan Hertel, executive director of Napa’s adult homeless shelter.
About 25 people joined Hertel to take part in the National Day of Remembrance for the homeless; some were homeless themselves, others were just people who cared.
“This is to remember those folks who died on the street or because of the street,” said Charlene Horton, program director for the shelter project. “It’s to say to this community, we are doing a lot but there is more to be done.”
Many of the homeless die because of untreated illness, alcoholism or suicide, she said.
Horton estimates that there are 350-400 homeless on Napa’s streets. About 250 of those receive services from the shelters.
Those numbers are low compared to seven years ago, when officials estimated that there were 900-1,200 homeless on Napa streets.
But, Horton emphasizes, work still needs to be done.
“It’s unconscionable for a community like Napa to have people sleeping under bridges,” she said.
Napa has more homeless services than ever before. The shelter project, under Community Action Napa Valley, runs several shelters, including two year-round shelters, a day shelter and an emergency winter shelter. Many provide hot breakfast and dinners for clients.
While many get help, there are also many who lose the battle.
“We want to remember everybody and not let them be forgotten, every year their name is read out loud, and hopefully, things begin to change,” Horton said.
118 not forgotten
Man from the South
Man on Mattress