MIAMI (AP) – When a 53-year-old man with no family died in Miami on Mother's Day, his formerly homeless friends pooled money for a proper burial and memorial service.
Lazaro Valdivia lived at Brownsville Christian Housing Center with others who used to be homeless due to drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues and physical disabilities. He referred to them as friends and family.
The Miami Herald reports they lived up to that billing when the Cuban man slipped into a diabetic coma and died. Instead of letting his body wait at the Miami-Dade County morgue as an unclaimed body, they started raising money for a memorial service.
Within a week about 60 Brownsville residents collected $1,100 for the service and cremation. Now, Valdivia's remains rest at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in nearby Doral.
Valdivia spent 10 years at the Brownsville center, which consists 74 efficiencies and is run by Miami's Camillus House. A portion of the funding comes from the county's one-percent food and beverage tax. And residents must pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income.
"We are one here and it's great. It is a home to us," said Mildred Wilson, 50, who spent 28 years on the streets and now keeps a tidy home.
When Valdivia died, his remains were supposed to be disposed of in the same manner as others in the same predicament usually are. His body was to be taken to the county morgue and wait for three months to process required paperwork and in case family showed up to claim the body.
"Camillus House does not have it in their budget to really put up a full funeral service for every resident who passes away and does not have a family," said case manager Esta Tudela.
Friends collected the money within a week of his death and almost everyone at the Brownsville center showed up for Valdivia's service.
"I helped Lazaro because I don't believe that anyone should die alone and be put away by the county if they have friends around them," said Nancy White. "When I moved here six years ago, he was the first person who started talking to me so we stuck as friends ever since."
Irene Francesca Rodriguez, 66, shared Valdivia's Cuban heritage. "It was a moral duty for me to help with this because I will be in the same situation when my time comes," she said.
Tudela praised their efforts.
"I didn't believe it would be achievable because the residents live on fixed incomes of between $600 and $800 a month and have to pay their bills," said Tudela. "It is a strong bond that makes someone with such an income give out $200 or even $50. It was love, it was caring about each other and it was really touching."