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Housing and Homelessness

Vigil Planned To Honor Unhoused Dead At City Hall. Organizers Goal: To 'Change The Narrative'

A row of tents sit on a sidewalk in front of a chain link fence. Buildings are visible in the background.
An encampment on 1st Street across from City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
(Chava Sanchez
/
LAist)
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At least 1,612 unhoused people died in Los Angeles County in the past year, a record-high, according to the Coroner's Office. But who are they? And what aspirations did they have?

They were people who had love, said Theo Henderson, host of the podcast We The Unhoused. They were artists, musicians and poets.

An informal vigil in their honor starts today (Saturday, March 12) at 11 a.m. at City Hall — another way, Henderson said, to help change the narrative around homelessness.

"We talk about the big Hollywood stars like Michael [Williams] or other Hollywood stars that may have OD'ed or died, but we love their work. We applaud their contribution ... and the unhoused have made a contribution to our society," Henderson said. "It's how we treat the least of us, is how we really are in our character."

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Henderson said it's important to acknowledge the losses, to honor and remember that the unhoused matter. He said he believes society didn't do enough to let them know they mattered. "That's the greatest contribution one can give to the unhoused," he said.

"Until we address the mental health and addiction component, we are going to continue to see a rise on the streets," L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger told LAist back in January.

But Henderson pointed to myriad other reasons for the high death toll — a lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines and medical treatments, a growing number of older adults who have become unhoused in recent years.

"But the bottom line is they have left this world living out here displaced, vilified, alone, denigrated," Henderson said. "They were unhoused, but they also were people that were part of the human spectrum."

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He said he expects a few dozen people to attend.

Groups supporting the event include KTown for All, which has done considerable outreach in Koreatown following a fight in 2018 over plans for a bridge shelter there.

And Institute on Inequality & Democracy at UCLA, where Henderson is a activist-in-residence.

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