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Vigil held for 54 homeless people who died in Washoe County last year

At Reno's downtown public square, a woman films as her son's memorial lantern is lit. It sits on a railing in a line of other lanterns with other names written on them.
Gustavo Sagrero
KUNR Public Radio
Karen Mastroianni films as her son Jason's lantern is lit at an interfaith vigil held in Reno on February 23, 2022 to honor the lives of at least 54 homeless people who died in 2021.

On one of Reno’s coldest nights so far this winter, a coalition of interfaith leaders and housing advocates held a vigil for at least 54 people who died last year as they lived without a home. For their loved ones, Wednesday’s event was a moment of acknowledgement.

“We will remember each person by calling his or her name, followed by a lighting of their candle," said Father Chuck Durante, one of the organizers of the event.

He stood behind a line of brown paper bags, each serving as a lantern with a name on it. Jason Mastroianni was one of those names. Jason’s mom Nancy recorded a video on her phone as her son’s lantern was lit.

“It’s nice to know somebody else is remembering him, instead of just his family and loved ones,” she said.

She was in a crowd of about 50 people who were bundled and standing still in the cold. As faith leaders said prayers, and called out each person's name, a candle was lit in each lantern.

“Look at us right now,” said Imam Abdel Aziz in the 20-degree weather. “We cannot even stand a few hours like this, [and] those people live the whole year in the severe cold and we lose them. I'm here to tell you that we still remember and will remember them.”

One person is still unidentified. The Washoe County medical examiner's office said they’ve made efforts to figure out who the man is but couldn’t find a connection, even after they reached out to neighbors at the park where the person lived.

Dr. Brandan Crum is an emergency room physician at St. Mary’s Hospital and was asked to speak as well. He cares for a number of people without homes through his work. He says a lack of stable housing takes a serious toll on people’s health.

“And they result in more complicated hospital stays and prolonged recovery times,” he said. “Unfortunately, these also often result in irreversible critical disease states

Crum hopes people come away from this vigil with more empathy for these community members.

Gustavo Sagrero is a former bilingual reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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