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‘They had a name, and they mattered’: Ascencia holds annual homeless memorial

‘They had a name, and they mattered’: Ascencia holds annual homeless memorial
Attendees lower their heads during a prayer at Ascencia's memorial service for homeless people at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. The names of homeless people who died in 2018 were recognized by reading their names aloud. (Tim Berger / Glendale News Press)

On the shortest day of the year, as the evening cold set in, a group of mourners gathered on a hill at Forest Lawn Memorial Park to honor homeless men and women who had passed away in Glendale and Burbank over the past year year.

Glendale-based homeless organization Ascencia’s annual event is held in conjunction with national Homeless Memorial Day, which is held on the winter solstice and commemorated with vigils across the country.

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“We brought to light, and to life, everybody’s personality,” Ascencia’s new executive director Laura Duncan said after the ceremony. “They had a name, and they mattered.”

One of the individuals eulogized was former political consultant Susan Ward, who, in addition to working on political campaigns, enjoyed playing tennis, reading, swimming and making clothes using her sewing machine, Duncan said.

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“They’re members of our community, so having a ceremony like this … helps to humanize these people and to remind our community members that there’s a huge need out there,” said state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), who represents Glendale, Burbank and other surrounding communities.

According to Friedman, recent resources allocated by local and state governments to combat homelessness have started to pay off, although there’s still a long way to go.

Five beds were recently added to Ascencia’s shelter, for a total of 45, Duncan said earlier this month.

Shelter bed increases are being reported across Los Angeles County, in addition to more available services for mental health, drug rehabilitation and job training, Friedman said.

In 2016, Los Angeles voters approved a property tax known as Proposition HHH to fund affordable housing for homeless and low-income individuals.

“[The idea is] to try to not just take people off the street for one or two nights, but to give them stability for the rest of their lives,” Friedman said.

Duncan also said she’s seen a positive trend in terms of the number of people transitioning from the streets into housing.

“They may already be sick from living on the streets, but they’re able to die with dignity and housing,” Duncan said. “Sometimes it’s a month later; sometimes it’s several years.”

Ron Baker, Ascencia’s board president and deacon at Glendale’s Holy Family Church, welcomed the audience of several dozen supporters, including Friedman, state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), Glendale City Councilwoman Paula Devine, Burbank City Councilman Jess Talamantes and Glendale Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Ragusa.

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