By Theresa Walker / Orange County Register
Originally published in Orange County Register.
Locally, 207 people will be featured in National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.
For Father Dennis Kriz, it’s not enough to remember homeless people who died in Orange County once a year.
The annual gatherings, always on Dec. 21 — the first day of winter and the longest night of the year — mark National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. And while Kriz plans to take part in this year’s ceremonies on Saturday, as he always does, his public vigil for people who die without shelter is constant.
Every month, in their honor, the parish priest at St. Philip Benizi Church in Fullerton holds a Catholic liturgical prayer service, known as the Office of the Dead. During that service he reads aloud the names of homeless people who died during the previous four-week window.
Kriz also publishes those same names in a monthly column hosted by the Voice of OC news website, something he vows to continue doing for as long as needed.
To him, the ritual is more than a mere reminder of lives lost. It’s also a call to action, an opportunity for people to begin to do more to address the crisis of homelessness.
“This has kept it visible,” Kriz said of the homeless people who have died in on sidewalks, parks, railroad tracks, bushes, cars, motels, hospitals, and, sometimes, in shelters.
“It puts a perspective on this that is sobering and tells us to focus on our county, to see what can we do.”
He’s also been a regular presence at public meetings and court hearings, speaking out about homeless people who died and others who are still suffering.
During the Dec. 17 meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Kriz led a group of 18 advocates from Housing is a Human Right Orange County who took turns, in two-minute allotments, reading aloud the names of 206 homeless people whose deaths he has chronicled.
Among those who read names was a young woman whose father, Paul Frank Brazer, 55, died in April. Brazer’s body was found in an El Pollo Loco parking lot in Santa Ana. It angers Kriz that she was cut off before she could finish relating her father’s challenges in finding help.
To Kriz, the voices of those who speak for the dead need to be heard as much and as often as possible. He holds the Office of the Dead services every second Tuesday of the month. In early December, at the last service of the year, he and a group of 10 people in attendance commemorated the deaths of 19 homeless people.
“Unfortunately,” Kriz said afterward, “we’ll be back next year.”
A running list
The names Kriz spotlights are culled from an Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. running list of people who die while having “no fixed abode,” the bureaucratic euphemism for homeless.
Kriz believes the list isn’t complete; that the process doesn’t account for all the homeless people who die in Orange County.
For example, he says one name missing from this year’s list is Michelle White. When she died, White had a fixed address, of sorts — Bridges of Kraemer Place, a shelter in Anaheim. Kriz said White was a mother-figure for other homeless people and well-liked in the community. White was 49 when she died in August.
“She was a person. She was loved,” said Kriz, who performed a memorial service for White at a local park. “Then, to just disappear like that … The night after she died, someone else was sleeping in the bed where she used to be.”
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