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Department of Human Services

For Immediate Release

Sonoma County to hold first-ever memorial service for 500 unclaimed people buried without a funeral

SANTA ROSA, CA | June 01, 2023

Sonoma County leaders will host the county’s first-ever memorial service of its kind on June 10 to honor the lives of hundreds of homeless, poor, elderly and other people who have died in the county without family or money to make burial arrangements.

The public is invited to participate in the 1 p.m. ceremony at Pleasant Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Sebastopol. It is organized by the county Office of the Public Administrator, Guardian, Conservator within the Department of Human Services and the county Coroner Unit within the Sheriff’s Office.

“People who pass away without family or means deserve to be remembered,” said District 5 Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who will be speaking at the ceremony. “This memorial is the first of its kind in Sonoma County to honor people who have been interred without a funeral in the rose garden at Pleasant Hills Memorial Park. People of all faiths and those who are non-religious are welcome to join us and ensure these members of our community are not forgotten.”

Under state law, blood relatives are required to arrange for the disposition of remains when a family member dies. If the family cannot be located by the county or afford the cost of disposition, the Sonoma County coroner will cremate and bury the remains. There are no provisions for a funeral service through the county’s indigent burial program.

Every year, the bodies of approximately 140 people who die in Sonoma County go unclaimed at the coroner, local hospitals and funeral homes. Their names are sent to the Public Administrator’s Office, which attempts to find family or friends to make final arrangements. Those who remain unclaimed — approximately 45 individuals per year — receive an indigent burial through the coroner.

Since 2010, the indigent burial program has interred the cremated remains of approximately 500 people in the rose garden at Pleasant Hills Memorial Park. Many were unhoused, veterans, or people who outlived their family or were estranged from their next-of-kin.

“Some of our indigent have served in the military or have been fixtures of our community. Everyone deserves a proper burial and this ceremony will go a step further to honor and remember the deceased,” said Paul Dunaway, director of the Human Services Department’s Adult and Aging Division, which oversees the Public Administrator’s Office.

In addition to Supervisor Hopkins, guest speakers will include Human Services Director Angela Struckmann, Coroner Sgt. Detective Michael Schemmel, and Veterans Remains Officer Ron Collier. The ceremony will conclude with words from several religious leaders and a moment of silence in the rose garden.

The event will be held at Pleasant Hills Memorial Park, 1700 Pleasant Hill Road. Registration is not required. More information can be found on the county’s event page.

Media Contact: 
Kristen Font, Communications Specialist
Sonoma County Human Services Department
(707) 565-8085