When art and design senior Kat Schroeder arrived at Mitchell Park on Feb. 28, she was handed a candle and a small Lego figurine. She sat on the grass as she listened to people talk about Kevin — an unhoused resident who was found dead on a sidewalk the morning of Feb. 22.
One community member involved in serving unhoused residents said Kevin would collect Lego figurines, handing them out to people who resembled the figurines he currently had. This was one way the community of San Luis Obispo honored Kevin and other unhoused residents at the candlelight vigil.
Around 60 people attended the event, according to event coordinator Michelle Mansker.
“I went to the event because at least 12 people died, and they deserve to be celebrated and remembered,” Schroeder said. “The dehumanization and neglect of the houseless community in SLO has been highlighted more than ever during the pandemic.”
The vigil was important to Mansker, as the death of a houseless person is often overlooked. The vigil was meant to recognize the known unhoused people who have died since the start of the pandemic.
Some of the causes of death mentioned at the vigil include cancer, anaphylactic shock, unknown illnesses, getting hit by cars and one of COVID-19. Kevin’s cause of death is unknown.
“They may make the news that a homeless person died but nobody ever holds a memorial for them,” Mansker said.
SLO Street Medics is an organization of volunteers with various first aid experiences who help out in the San Luis Obispo community. When the volunteers would go around passing out food and hygiene kits, Mansker would see Kevin and got to know him personally through the organization. Mansker said he was quiet and never asked for anything.
“I would go out of my way to go and find him to [see] if he needed anything,” Mansker said. “He was easily overlooked.”
At the vigil, an altar displayed 13 candles. Each had a name of an individual that had passed, the 13th candle representing those whose names were not known.
Music was played and a poem was read, then the names on the candles were read including a description of how and when they had died. After, a poster was hung of all the individual names and 13 minutes of silence were taken.
The attendees then formed a line up to the altar where they placed their candles and Lego figures on the altar.
While Mansker wanted to create a place where people can gather to remember Kevin and the other houseless people who had passed, there was a larger reason for the event.
“My biggest thing is I didn’t want him, or really anybody, to be in an unmarked grave or have a mass cremation and not be remembered,” Mansker said.