FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A somber ceremony in Downtown Fresno marked the 8th annual Homeless Persons' Memorial Day Ceremony.
Dozens gathered to remember the lives lost that are often overlooked.
Among the speakers was Samantha Ortiz. She lost her father last year while he was living on the streets in Fresno.
"It was tragic, it was upsetting, I had so many questions. How does this happen? Not just to me, but this is happening to others," says Samantha.
Local boots on the ground coalitions estimate about 60 unsheltered people die each year.
Samantha's dad became homeless after losing his job and home in 2018.
She found out her dad was living on the streets only after he had passed.
Samantha has turned her pain and hurt into change, as an advocate for our homeless community.
"Four out of 10 people are one missed paycheck away from poverty and those statistics, we should all be saddened by them because we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world," mentions Samantha.
Among the youngest in the crowd was 15-year-old Scarlett Kochergen.
She's a member of MONARCH, a local homeless advocacy group launched in 2021.
As part of 40 days of Lent, faith based members offer kindness and support to unhoused locals.
Scarlette explains, "I remember all the memories talking to all these people and I just love them. I feel like they are family to me. They are family members."
Scarlette hopes to study Criminology at Fresno State. She says her passion for helping the most vulnerable will carry on.
"Homeless people deserve the same amount and respect that anyone else does, they are people too." says Scarlette.
The Homeless Person's Memorial has been held nationwide on December 21 since 1990.
The date marks the first day of winter -- it is the longest night during the coldest time of the year.
It's all an effort to remember what our homeless community goes through on long winter nights.