By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
WESTMINSTER — Martin Velazquez felt compelled to organize a candlelight vigil for a deceased homeless man to whom he had never spoken. He anticipated 50 people might attend. Almost twice as many showed up.
Mark Shigeru Oyama, 63, nicknamed “Samurai” because of his ponytail and Asian features, passed away Sept. 11. He was found on the steps of Calvary Chapel Pacific Coast, across the street from the bus stop at Westminster Boulevard and Willow Street, where he situated himself most days.
Longtime residents believe that around 16 years ago, Oyama’s family members either passed away or moved, leaving him alone.
“At first it was like, ‘Oh, just another homeless guy.’ Right? But over the years, he was consistently around the area, so it piqued my interest. As the years went by, I said to myself, ‘You know, one time I’m going to stop by and give him some food or give him some money.’ But I was always on the go. When I heard that he passed away, that’s when it really got to me,” said Velazquez. “Lonely and with no one around. That just didn’t sit right with me.”
He recalled, “Living in Westminster since 2007, I would see him often on Westminster Boulevard.”
Learning of Oyama’s death, people began to post comments on social media about their interactions with him.
“He always kept his area clean,” stated one local resident.
“He didn’t bother anybody. He just kept to himself and didn’t accept any handouts. He was respectful, and he kept his area clean wherever he was at. He was definitely a different kind of person,” commented Velazquez.
“Then I saw the effect his death had on the residents of the city of Westminster. He was quite the popular guy. Everyone was sharing their condolences, but I could only think of the missed opportunity (to communicate). I posted on the Facebook page, Westminster CommUNITY group, the idea of holding a vigil for him, and the response was amazing!” Velazquez learned that many people were willing to come together as a community to honor Oyama.
His death has led others to extend a helping hand to Orange County’s growing population of undomiciled people.
A total of 372 homeless died in Orange County last year. In Los Angeles County, the number is about 1,500 in the past year, with “accidental overdose” listed as the most frequent cause of death.
In Oyama’s case, determination of the cause of death is still pending, according to the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner.
Oyama grew up in Orange County. Taunia McMillan remembers him as a teenager. “I went to school with him, Class of ’75, Westminster High School, but really only knew him mainly from the streets … My family has tried to give to him for years. I hate that (none of his) family can be found.”
McMillan credited Velazquez with bringing to community together for Oyama. “He brought his love, care, and concern.”
Velazquez, who is married and has four children ages 7-12, connected with a pastor at another church that brought together a network of homeless outreach programs in Westminster. The network collaborates with the Homeless Division of the Westminster Police Department and allows police officers to transmit information on available service programs.
“Whatever I can do, I mean, I’m not Superman but I can try, right? Take the opportunity when you can to bless someone because you never know when the next time is going to come,” advises Velazquez.