CIP School in the Phils.

Vigil pays homage to homeless lives lost

on November 3, 2015

Mugshot of Lyndsay Winkley



— Crowding the steps that lead to the San Diego County Administration Building on Sunday were 91 empty pairs of shoes, each one representing a man or woman who died on the streets of San Diego over the last year.

The heart-wrenching display came at the end of an annual, silent, mile-long walk to commemorate the homeless who died and to bring awareness to the plight of nearly 9,000 people still without homes in the city. Those 91 deaths, which happened between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, represented a 61 percent jump from the 56 who died the previous year.

More than 100 people, most carrying a pair of shoes, marched from the San Diego Rescue Mission, which hosted the event, to the county building on Harbor Drive. Once there, they read the names of those who died. The demonstration was meant to be a wake-up call, said Herb Johnson, the rescue’s president.

“These are our brothers, these are our sisters, these are people that were somebody’s child… and we as a community have a responsibility to provide support, as much support as we can, so that we can get as many of these people off the streets as we can,” he said.

It was also meant to be a time of reflection for those who are working to get off the streets, Johnson said. Many who toted shoes were residents at the rescue mission, he said.

“Most of the people who carry those shoes will tell you they start to get really heavy, because what they start to understand is those shoes could very well have been theirs,” Johnson said.

Even though Elizabeth Mathews has been off the streets and drug-free since 2011, hearing the names of the dead and seeing each pair of shoes “hits me in the heart,” she said.

Mathews, who now works at the rescue mission, shared her story at Sunday’s event. She was 22 years old, a mother of two, when she got hooked on crystal methamphetamine. It took years, but she ended up on the streets.

The now 54-year-old would spend much of her time at the El CajonTransit Center and most nights at the Viejas Casino. Other times, though, she’d sleep in the bushes with a blanket that staved off the cold, but not the bugs.

“That’s no life,” Mathews said. “Talking about it now makes me want to cry, but I know I’m better than that old Elizabeth.”

Then, in 2011, her brother found her “methed out” at the trolley station, she said. He told her that their mother had died 15 days earlier. It was a turning point for Mathews.

She attended the funeral and checked into a rehabilitation center a week later. After that program, she moved to the San Diego Rescue Mission to continue her recovery.

Slowly, with help from programs at the mission, she started piecing her life back together. She mended ties with her children, and got a job at the rescue. Now she helps others get off the street

“I love what I do because I’m constantly giving back by sharing my hopes, dreams and story to the new ladies who come into the program,” Mathews said. “I just hope I can plant a seed here and there. If you plant even one seed, it might grow and they can pass that on.”



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