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Big Sue’s Funeral
Big Sue, who was a homeless advocate and homeless herself, was given a funeral today that started at the place of her death, outside the gate of the Poverello House (a homeless center in Fresno). About 100 homeless people, family members, and friends followed the hearse to Broadway and San Benito where services were held at a homeless ministry run by Ray Polk, who is also homeless. Photo below: Minister Ray Polk with Big Sue’s daughter Suzzanne. The baby is Big Sue’s grandson.
The context of Big Sue’s death is important to know about if you want to understand the circumstances of her death. Big Sue, like hundreds of other homeless people in Fresno, had no shelter following the City of Fresno assault on their shelters. City crews have destroyed almost every tent and shelter in downtown Fresno, returned to take homeless peoples sleeping bags, extinquished the fires that keep them warm and forced them to sleep on the cold hard sidewalks.
Big Sue died on December 28, on the sidewalk in front of the Poverello House, on a day when temperatures where below freezing. Dozens of homeless people have pneumonia and Community Hospital has had to lock their emergency room doors, because so many people are trying to seek medical attention.
Just last Thursday, City of Fresno crews were destroying homeless peoples property on Santa Clara Street. See: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/01/12/18704665.php
For more information about the background of the homeless situation in Fresno, see: http://fresnoalliance.com/wordpress/?p=1313
Words from Jean Kennedy, spoken at Big Sue’s Funeral
Let me first of all say condolences to the family. Because I think this has taken it to a whole other level about what homelessness is all about in this community. Sometimes we are put on earth for various reasons and I’m holding our West Fresno Ministerial Alliance feet to the fire on this and I say this with all due respect to my brother who is a pastor. But each church in this community right here has members, we’re not just preaching to the pews. I’m holding them accountable right there in front of my sister Sue, that they call it like it is.
When the politicians come to our churches, when they come through wanting us to give them our votes - and I’m speaking to the family, because I want them to hear me - when they ask for us to support them in action, I want you to know that I want our pastors to be much more serious about what it is and who it is that they support and to began to look at policy to make sure that my sister Sue who sat in front of a homeless shelter and died in front of a homeless shelter, she did not die inside, she was outside the gates. When I asked sister Sue “what are you doing there sister Sue, why don’t you go inside where it is warm?” Sister Sue said “no, they won’t let me in.” I said “Sister Sue, why won’t they let you in?” and she said “because I have all my stuff and they won’t let me in.”
We are told that there is a bed for every homeless person in this community. There is a bed, but they have criteria put on those beds. We want to make sure that people who are homeless have a bed and not have to worry about the criteria. Our brother Rhodes is leading that fight. Our brother Rhodes is in media as well as being able to take care of everyone else in terms of getting that information out. We are supporting him. My sister Judy Hess, I tell you I did not know this woman had that much energy, and she has found a way to mobilize our community so that we can all be on the same page.
I’m telling you, the family of Sister Sue, her death is not going to be in vain. I tell you that as long as I’m in Fresno and my brother is here (Ray Polk) and this is his home, we are going to make sure that we look at policy so that we won’t have this sort of a situation - so that people have a room, so they have a roof over their heads if they so desire, and if they don’t desire that, we still give them the respect that they need to have. Thank you very much and we make that pledge to you today.
Jean Kennedy spoke at the funeral. A transcript of her talk is above. All photos by Simone Whalen-Rhodes
This was the funeral procession as it went down Ventura street.
Big Sue’s family and friends were pallbearers at the funeral.
Third from the left is Suzanne, Big Sue’s daughter and two of Big Sue’s granddaughters.