Mary O’Brien: A memorial for Nevada County’s homeless community members no longer with us | TheUnion.com
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Mary O’Brien: A memorial for Nevada County’s homeless community members no longer with us

I have been involved with the homeless community since I moved here in 2005 – first with Hospitality House as volunteer coordinator for seven years, then with Sierra Roots. During that time I have seen many of those who have no roof over their heads pass out of the community without a nod.

It has haunted me.

This year Sierra Roots is holding a memorial 6-7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21 — at First Baptist Church in Nevada City — on the Solstice, and the day we as a country acknowledge the homeless. I hope The Union will publish this incomplete list on Saturday of those who died without an obituary.



This event is held in conjunction with the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day which is traditionally held on Dec. 21, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year . On the first day of winter we bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness and remember our homeless citizens who have died unmemorialized and unknown.

Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year for most people, but the longest night for persons experiencing homelessness and often it is the coldest night as well.

Around the country, advocates for homeless persons will gather in 160 cities to remember the members of their community who have died without permanent homes or care. Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year for most people, but the longest night for persons experiencing homelessness and often it is the coldest night as well.



On winter Solstice, we remember friends and neighbors who have passed away without a place to call home. The list is long.

Sierra Roots invites you to join us at this memorial.

Dec. 21, is the day we honor and remember those who lived and died without homes in our community. Many of them grew up and went to school here. Various circumstances led them into lives lived without a home or close family ties. They died with no obituary to note their passing.

Here are just a few of the many we would like to honor, in no particular order:

Howard Coffin — Worked in Nevada County as a logger until one day a logging truck ran over him. He was disabled and eventually became homeless. A good man, a humble man, a funny man.

Steve Callahan — A regular in Grass Valley downtown. Great storyteller, funny, and, when sober, fun to be around. Addiction to alcohol took away his ability to earn enough to keep a roof over his head.

Ron J — Came from a local family. Whenever there was an event in town, Ron would help set up and work like the devil to clean up. Cancer took him.

Richard Larson — Another native of this area. Went to schools here. In his late teens/early 20s he was beaten badly. As a result his eyes didn’t always go in the same direction. He found it hard to hold down a job and ended up on the streets. He had a great personality and a kind heart. He died alone in a room.

Life — A Vietnam Veteran; smart; kept up with current affairs in this country and around the world. Really interesting to talk with. He took it upon himself to care for and protect younger homeless folks whenever possible. He was best friends with Billy Kelly, who froze to death under a bridge in Nevada City several years ago. He took Billy’s death hard.

John Mitchell — When Hospitality House first opened in 2005, John sent a formal letter asking to join. John was “the working homeless”. He had a job on Loma Rica, and slept in the woods up there when he was not at Hospitality House. He would ride his bike to Penn Valley with his world on the back — at least 60 pounds. He disappeared unnoticed.

Jennifer O’Brien — Tried her hardest to get well to take her babies back.

Peter O’Brien — Wanted nothing more than a family of his own. Funny man, a friend to everyone.

Matt Pflug — A challenging man, a challenging life, and missed dearly by those he was closest to him.

Stella Ditkins — A sweet woman with hidden grief but always with a smile.

Rob Madden — Enigmatic yet simple with a fortitude to stay the course and a love for hidden rivers.

Larry Tankersley — Gentle and smiling trying to find the joy in life through deep sadness we will never forget your quiet suffering and miss you dearly.

Tommy Mckurcher — Jokes and laughter tears and sadness the divine comedy in one soul.

Mary O’Brien lives in Grass Valley.


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