Delia Johnson heard from her family contacts that Major Slaughter, the brother of her former husband, had died recently after a long struggle experiencing homelessness. Johnson knew a bit about the situation of the man best known by as “Cowboy.” But she had long since lost touch with him.
Information about a service would come soon, she was told. Slaughter’s daughter had claimed his body from the coroner’s office and was waiting for it to be released for cremation. The coroner noted the 63-year-old died on Nov. 5, with the cause listed as “natural/unknown.”
Still, the gravity of Slaughter’s passing didn’t really resonate with Johnson until she and a friend were quietly leaving the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels Dec. 21 following the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ first Homeless Persons Interreligious Memorial.
Those in attendance were encouraged to take with them one or more of the small white bags with a tea-light battery-charged candle inside arranged in a “luminaria” along the cathedral’s south ambulatory.
As Johnson scanned the names on the bags, the one with Slaughter’s name caught her eye — one of 1,462 set upon the granite-tiled floor. That number represents all those homeless who could be identified that had died on the streets of Los Angeles this past year through Nov. 30.
As Johnson picked the bag up, she felt the impact of the evening.
More than a dozen faith leaders from around Southern California joined Archbishop José H. Gomez for the event, including representatives from Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim traditions as well as Lutheran, Episcopal, and Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints congregations.
The memorial occurred just weeks after the Los Angeles County Crematorium Cemetery in Boyle Heights laid to rest the cremated remains of more than 1,600 people in a mass grave — bodies unclaimed since 2019. Many among them were presumably homeless with no known family members to claim them.
Father Chris Ponnet, one of several religious leaders who officiates at the burial, said such events are key to acknowledging “the dignity of each person in life and in death.”
“We have to realize these are people who could have died from COVID,” said Father Ponnet, pastor at the St. Camillus Center for Pastoral Care and chaplain at USC Keck Medical Center near downtown.
“Hopefully this motivates people to say to the larger group: Health care is needed for all, and the homeless are our family, our neighbors. That’s the challenge for any religious group.”
For more than 20 years, Jess Echeverry has guided the Westchester-based nonprofit organization SOFESA, which aims to help alleviate obstacles facing homeless and low-income families in Southern California. SOFESA and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Los Angeles partnered with Donaldson’s office to organize the vigil.
“It could have been me,” said Echeverry, who was homeless for seven years.
Echeverry said that in addition to those who die from drug overdoses, assault, or even hypothermia, the homeless face a more hidden threat: the temptation to take one’s own life to end their misery and hopelessness. She said she attempted suicide twice during her homelessness.
Full story at Angelus News.