Rest in Peace “Dirty Santa”

By: Tim Houchen
December 12, 2018 —

This is a story that I wrote several years ago while I was still homeless and living at the Santa Ana Civic Center. The story is about a guy named Richard that I became friends with and then later he died.

Every year I get requests from people to post this story as a prelim to the Christmas holiday and Homeless Persons Memorial Day held on Dec. 21st each year. This story was actually my inspiration for organizing events in recognition of Homeless Persons Memorial Day every year since.

This is a picture of a homeless guy named Richard about a week before he passed away at the Santa Ana civic center.

I don’t think that anyone ever knew his last name. A few of us joked with him, especially during the holidays when we would nick-name him, “Dirty Santa.”

Richard didn’t seem to mind the moniker that we had labeled him with. Heck, we were just a bunch of dirty homeless guys ourselves anyway. Nobody ever cared about any of us.

Richard slept just outside the plate glass windows of the State of California building at the civic center. I slept just around the corner of the building, about ten feet away from him for two years.

We were a tight-knit crew of about a dozen guys that had protected and defended one another from violence, harm and all manners of chicanery for a long time before Richard showed up. Normally, outsiders were not allowed near our camp. But he was cool, never bothered anybody, and never complained about anything. We had his back too.

At the time, I sensed that he felt safe and secure around myself and the other guys in our camp. If that’s the case then I am happy to have provided the least bit of comfort to him during his tortured life.

I always had a pack or two of cigarettes at any given time and many of the guys begged me for smokes constantly. It was a nuisance. I never minded giving a couple to Richard. He nearly never asked me, but I knew when he wanted a smoke so I would sit with him, smoke a couple and talk with him.

Richard may have looked like a derelict, but that was not the case. We had some really great conversations. He was quiet and soft-spoken. I could tell that he was a man that had loved and had been loved sometime in his past.

Looking back it’s obvious that when the two of us smoked and spoke with one another, I was looking into the face of a broken man empty of emotion and deplete of any wil lto live. Now I know that the spirit and the flesh don’t necessarily die at the same time.

I woke up at the crack of dawn to freezing temperatures on December 26th. It was a day like any other for me despite the cold. I would have to gather-up my gear and move out quickly. I knew that the police would arrive there soon to issue camping citations to stragglers. No time to look out for anyone but myself in those moments.

Later that afternoon news spread across the civic center that someone had complained to police that a homeless person was sleeping where they were not supposed to. The police arrived to find a homeless man dead at the scene. Later I would discover that it had been Richard.

The county coroner estimated that his body had layed there dead for nearly twenty hours.

Our homeless friend Richard, the guy that we had so affectionately nick-named “Dirty Santa” had died cold and all alone on Christmas Day in 2014.

Rest in Peace My Brother.

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About the Author

Tim Houchen
Tim Houchen was homeless and living at the Santa Ana Civic Center between 2011 and 2015. He began advocating for the homeless community there while he was still homeless as a founding member of the infamous Civic Center Roundtable. The “grass roots” organization was composed of homeless individuals living at the civic center and Houchen was elected to serve as the groups first official spokesman in 2014. Tim is now in permanent supportive housing and lives in the City of Anaheim where he serves as a Commissioner of Housing and Community Development. Tim is also a member of the Orange County Continuum of Care and serves as Co-Chairman of the Homeless Providers Forum. He founded the nonprofit, Hope 4 Restoration, in 2017 and serves as Executive Director of the organization. Houchen created this site as a vehicle to share his knowledge, information and most of all, his experience which allows him to view the current homeless crisis in Orange County from a different and very unique perspective, a “Homeless Perspective.”

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