Food vendors he regularly greeted and outreach workers he spurned said their goodbyes.
“I want you to look at all the people touched by Chino,” said the Rev. Linda M. Kaufman, an advocate for the homeless who planned the service. “I’ve done services for people who died on the street before, and I’ve never seen this many people show up.”
District officials announced earlier this year that 6,521 homeless people live in the city, a 5.5 percent decline from a year earlier. While D.C. leaders credit city policies for the decline, they say a shortage of affordable housing makes the problem difficult to tackle.
Despite Chino’s mental health problems, society had a responsibility to shelter him, said Brian Carome, executive director of Street Sense Media, a nonprofit group that publishes a newspaper sold by the homeless. He said ending homelessness will require a commitment to building cheaper housing.
“Chino should not have died under this awning,” he said. “He should have died in a home of his own.”
Though Kaufman never had performed a sidewalk ceremony, she reached out to nonprofit Pathways to Housing DC the day after Chino died to plan the memorial and put up fliers under the Macy’s awning and the hot dog stand at 12th and G streets NW.
During the lunchtime service, she lit a candle at a makeshift altar across the street from a cheesesteak truck and asked attendees to clear a path for passersby. Two men, oblivious to those shedding tears, walked by carrying a canoe.
Those gathered offered observations of a neighbor whose exuberant spirit couldn’t be obscured by mental illness, addiction and lack of a home address.
One outreach worker called Chino “one of our toughest clients” — a man who resisted well-meaning attempts to put a roof over his head, but insistent the sheets on his sidewalk cot be clean. A woman said he was passionate about watching a movie every Friday. A man commented he was “a hell of a soccer player.”
“Let’s not sugarcoat it — Chino could be a real pain in the a--,” Carome said to general laughter. “Like many Washingtonians.”
He said Chino worked as a Street Sense vendor and in the organization’s office before Carome fired him about three years ago. Though Chino wrote for the organization, Carome said his mental illness made him “constantly disruptive” while trying to sell newspapers.
Thursday’s brief memorial filled gaps in the scant public record of a man who died on a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Washington. Even a police report detailing his death doesn’t bear his name.
“Medic 3 transported S-1 to Georege [sic] Washington Hospital where all lifesaving efforts proved futile and S-1 was pronounced,” the report said. A spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office, Cheryle E. Adams, said findings on the cause and manner of Chino’s death are pending.
Despite having devoted friends, Chino carried with him an extensive criminal history.
Public records show he was from New Jersey and was convicted of child molestation in 1992, then later charged with failure to register as a sex offender, drug possession and trafficking in stolen property. He was last criminally charged in the District in 2007 with possessing an open container of alcohol.
Jason Dean, Chino’s cousin, said he once served in the Navy and was the father of two children, but the fallout from a bad marriage “made him lose his mind.” He had been out of touch with family for years, Dean said, and his mother, who is in poor health, still didn’t know he died.
“That was like my brother,” Dean said in an interview from his North Carolina home. “When he was in his right state of mind, he was a loving husband and good to his kids.”
Chino’s writing and comics on the Street Sense website offer glimpses of the energy people said he brought to the neighborhood.
“He is a guy of many passions and desires,” he once wrote about himself. “At 41 years old, he is still energetic, and full of life.”
Gerren G. Price, director of public space operations for the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, said Chino’s plight showed the importance of homeless outreach, particularly as officials grapple with how to handle encampments around the city.
“He’s just a guy who we’ve seen every day, we talk to every day,” Price said. “It was devastating when we had to come clean up the day after.”
Kristal DeKleer, a former Street Sense employee who attended the memorial, once let Chino sleep on her couch for a few months after securing him a dishwashing job. He earned enough money to get his own place, but eventually lost it, she said.
DeKleer said Chino’s complex character showed “the mystery of homelessness.” The same energy that brought people out to honor him should be used to get people like him safely housed, she said.
After the memorial, mourners slowly dispersed, sharing memories of Chino. The only traces of his passing were flower bouquets leaning against Macy’s and chalk on the sidewalk that read “Miss you my friend” and “I know you’re still here with us.”