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Celebrating Joseph Edwards’ life – April 9, 1968 to April 28, 2021

Gloria Meneses-Sandoval  |  Issue: June July 2021
Joseph Edwards

Joseph Edwards was only 53 years old.  He died on April 28, 2021.  Many in the community of Merced knew him or had seen him in familiar spaces flying his sign off a freeway off-ramp or on some other corner of a busy street corner- panhandling.  I met Joseph and his wife Bernice more than ten years ago.  They were both honored at an Abolishing Homelessness forum at UC Merced on April 9, 2011—happened to be his birthday.  He and Bernice were recognized for their unselfish act of saving four university students whose car had plunged into Bear Creek on December 21, 2010 during a very cold winter night.  Joseph went into the frigid river to save the young people and ended up saving their lives.  Emergency help was called by Bernice and after all was over, they went back to staying under the G Street bridge – they were homeless.  In April 2011 – the Merced City Council provided them with recognition for their “heroic and life saving actions.” 

They were not always homeless but when they ran out of money and could not pay the run-down, pest-infected room, they would be out on the streets again.  Joseph was always helping someone with fixing their bicycles.  He loved to see the smile of the faces of children when he would give them the used but freshly painted bicycles that he had fixed.  I had given him four bikes that my grandson had outgrown that my daughter had given me.  Joseph was very glad to receive them and started working on them immediately.

Joseph was a very handsome man with a slender built and an admired tan that he had due to the extended time that he would be outside gathering up his donations.  He was polite and mild-mannered. The city began to carry out their sweeps of homeless individuals and had them on a constant move and so were unable to sleep during the night. Many houseless individuals have medical, substance or mental illness issues but are made to seem criminal.   Many times, all their belongings were thrown away along with their medications. This reflects on the meanness of treating homeless as if they are less than human.   What would giving them a ticket do except arresting them and taking them to jail for not paying the fines?

The issue of homelessness is not just in Merced, California, it is a part of the landscape in so many communities.  In spite of millions of federal and state dollars and an immense amount of volunteer time and efforts to provide them with food –there has been an increase of people living on the streets.  Park hours have been restricted, benches and cement picnic tables have been removed from parks to drive them away.  They have no place to call their own, private or public.

The motel where Joseph took his last breaths, Bernice was and continues to pay $70.00 per day.  That equals more than $2,100.00 a month for one room with very few amenities!!  This is not affordable and many are unable to pay this amount.  Some use their unemployment, stimulus subsidy, other government benefits plus panhandling to cover this expense.  Government has to do more to help people who are living on the streets.

A memorial event is being planned on Saturday, June 19th at McNamara Park in Merced to honor Joseph and to encourage the community to get involved in finding solutions for people living in poverty.  A tree is expected to be planted in Joseph’s honor.  We will also have an explanation of Juneteenth and why it is celebrated since it falls on June 19, 2021.  May You Rest in Peace Joseph Edwards.

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