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PHOTOS: Vigil held to honor the 54 homeless people who died in 2021

By Bob Conrad

Photos by Ty O’Neil

There’s a casual acceptance of the suffering of the least fortunate in the Reno area. That’s what Ben Castro with the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE) said last night at a vigil downtown held to honor the unsheltered who died last year.

“There’s a casual acceptance of their early passing that is somehow to be expected, or that it’s their destiny,” Castro said. “That sort of apathy is a death sentence. I think we can do better.”

Community members lit candles and luminarias in remembrance of people who died homeless during a vigil Feb. 23, 2022 in Reno, Nev. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

First reported by This Is Reno since 2017, the annual homeless death count shows an increasing trend in those living without shelter dying of various causes. 

More than 20 people died in 2016. By 2022 that number has climbed to 54. 

Washoe County originally reported the 2021 number as 52, but two more deaths were added to the list before last night’s vigil.

The vigil was held by an interfaith coalition. Representatives from Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Baha’i faiths each spoke about what they said was the need to help those who are suffering.

Father Chuck Durante of St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral gave the opening remarks.

“We do this to hold them in prayer and remembrance and to remind ourselves of the bitter situation that many are living in our area – bitter and harsh,” Durante said.

About three dozen people attended the vigil held at City Plaza in freezing temperatures. 

Those without shelter died of various causes, including accidental deaths, suicide, homicide and natural causes. Each person was named last night, along with their age.

Organizers said the vigil would return next year if more people experiencing homelessness continue to die in the community.

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