On Sunday morning, a group of Bernal Heights neighbors gathered to participate in a memorial service for Stephen, the gracious resident of Precita Park who died on January 20.
It was a simple but warm affair. There were some cookies, and some coffee, and a modest shrine set up on the table where Stephen often passed the days. There were grey-haired old-timers on hand, along with families with kids, dogs with their owners, and a few Precita Park merchants. I overheard one young attendee say, “When my mother came to visit, I took her to meet him.”
Stephen died of complications from alcoholism, but he made a strong impression during the many years he spent living in the park. He’d apparently lost track of his real family, but he’d adopted the people of the neighborhood as surrogates. “Over and over I’d ask him, ‘Why don’t you get a room somewhere?’” one neighbor recalled. “Every time he’d say the same thing: ‘It’s the people. I look out for them, and they look out for me.”
One man said, “some people may have had a problem with his being here, but his presence made this a safer and more family-friendly place.”
Then someone pulled out a guitar, and everyone sang “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”
Stephen is also remembered via an eerily modern memorial: During a late stage of Stephen’s illness, while he was confined to a wheelchair, the Google Maps car apparently drove up Folsom Street on a sunny and pleasant day. As the car passed the intersection with Bessie Street, its cameras captured Stephen resting in the sun, in the very spot where his many friends and neighbors would gather to remember and appreciate him months later, after he was gone: