Rafu Staff and Wire Reports

Los Angeles County officials reported Thursday that another 25 county residents have died of the coronavirus, including a staff member at a homeless shelter.

Gerald Shiroma

Gerald Shiroma, 56, a resident and driver at Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row, died from complications of COVID-19 on April 8.

“I know you all join me in expressing our deep condolences and gratitude to this person’s family,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “We’re so very sorry for your loss.”

Along with the 25 deaths, there were also 425 new cases, bringing the county’s total number of coronavirus cases to 7,955, with 223 deaths. Ferrer reported that the death rate was now 2.8 percent, up from 2.6 percent on Wednesday.

Shiroma’s passing was announced in a video on social media by Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission. “Please pray for our team as we absorb this huge hit, this huge loss, the most difficult news I think I’ve ever had to share with our team during this battle,” he said.

According to Bales, Shiroma, whose job was to pick up food from donors, was the only resident of the mission who tested positive for the virus. He was diagnosed last week and his health quickly deteriorated. “In those last few days, he went to 80% ventilator and then no relief at all.”

“His cousin wrote and thanked us and thanked Pastor Dan [Anderson], specifically, for giving him a new family, a new life, a new community,” Bales said. “Gerald came to our program seeking recovery from addiction, seeking community. His heart had been broken by the loss of his parents. He had a lot of guilt from … suffering in that addiction while his parents passed away. He was able to deal with that, forgive himself, by sending a letter to his deceased parents. He was able to manage the challenges that we all manage living in this human flesh, living with ourselves.”

Shiroma, an only child, lost his father in 2010 and his mother in 2011. Unemployed and addicted to meth, he was unable to pay the property taxes and was forced to sell the house. He ended up at Union Rescue Mission in April 2015 after “blowing everything that I had,” he recalled in a 2018 podcast. Most of his relatives turned their backs on him because he had borrowed money and never paid them back.

Describing himself as “a walking dead person,” Shiroma said he was “on the verge of committing suicide … I had given up on life completely.” One cousin referred him to the mission because he knew one of the chaplains there, Rodney Tanaka, a former police officer and current Gardena city councilman.

Although living in Skid Row scared him at first, it was there that Shiroma rediscovered his faith and “looked into myself to see what changes I needed to make.”

“Gerald graduated from the program, did so well that he was hired to be a driver, served our team magnificently, selflessly,” Bales recalled. “He and his buddy Mike Weber, roommates, began to attend City Light Church. Mike would rally everyone to go, Gerald would drive, and when Mike Weber lost his battle with cancer, Gerald continued to take all the guys to church. Wonderful things were shared as well by Chaplain [Michael] McIntire that Gerald was a gentle soul. He cared deeply about others. He served others.”

Starting in January 2018, Shiroma drove a refrigerated truck to pick up sandwiches, pastries and drinks from such locations as Porto’s Bakery and Starbucks.

“Since everyone at Union Rescue Mission has tested negative, no one else on Skid Row has tested positive, it is possible that Gerald got the dreaded disease, this roaring lion, this force of evil, out on his route and not on Skid Row or Union Rescue Mission,” Bales said. “But even in his struggle, even in his sickness, Gerald served us well. His illness caused us to buckle down like never before, wearing masks, keeping our six-foot distance, washing our hands.

“Even as he struggled for his life, it … caused us to depend like never before on God’s miraculous healing. And although we didn’t experience that Easter miracle that we prayed for, we have experienced the miracle that no one else has come down with this pandemic disease …

“This morning he woke up in glory, he breathed new air and found it celestial … That’s what gives us hope. We know Gerald loved the lord, served the lord, served us as his brothers and sisters, and I’m hoping that his comeback story will give others facing addiction hope, others facing hardship and disconnection from family hope, even others who are battling right now in the hospitals for their lives will be given hope by his courageous battle …

“I hope that Gerald’s life story … drives us all together to serve others like he served, to be there for others who are struggling … to keep our metaphorical doors open to loving others when they are in need, but also to keep our physical doors open to loving others who are in need.”

To hear Shiroma’s story in his own words, go online to: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/stories-from-skid-row/e/56840101

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