Mike Zint, the founder of First They Came for the Homeless, talks at the vigil held for Laura Jadwin, whose body was found Saturday. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

A group of homeless activists, and those who provide services to people without homes, gathered on the steps of City Hall Tuesday night to remember Laura Jadwin, 55, whose body was found Saturday under a tree in a lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Flanked by votives in paper bags and a huge sign stating Protest Homeless Deaths, speaker after speaker vowed not to forget Jadwin or the circumstances in which she died. Until the ceremony began, no-one knew her name, but Berkeley police released it to Berkeleyside just as the vigil began and shared it with the crowd.

The vigil took place at the same time the City Council was meeting inside City Hall in a closed session to talk about the U.S. Postal Services’ lawsuit against the city’s rezoning of the Civic Center area. Mike Zint, the founder of the homeless activist group First They Came for the Homeless, noted the irony of the situation as he and others spent 17 months outside the main post office on Allston Way to protest its closure.

Since no one had much information about Jadwin, the vigil became a rally of sorts against what many perceived as society’s indifference to the homeless.

Barbara Brust of Consider the Homeless talks at the vigil. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
A shrine at the Jan. 17 vigil. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“We have to do something to stop what’s going on here,” said Barbara Brust, who runs the organization Consider the Homeless. “We have to make it so people who are afraid of shelters have a place to go. Laura, I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t know her but I feel impacted by her death,” said Andrea Prichett, a BUSD teacher and a founder of Berkeley Copwatch. “When Laura died there was something in all of us that was diminished.”

Mike Zint said Jadwin was the ninth homeless person who had died in the East Bay of exposure in the past few months. He couldn’t provide specifics, but said four of those were in Oakland, and three were from Berkeley and had actually gotten housing but died a short time later. Zint said that their long years in the elements had contributed to their deaths. The eighth was Roberto Benitas, who died in September in the doorway of the old U-Haul business on San Pablo Avenue and Addison Street. The ninth was Laura Jadwin.

Tom White discovered Jadwin’s body around 10:15 a.m. Saturday when he visited his property at 2214 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. He spotted what he thought was a pile of rags under a tree, but when he walked closer he saw it was a body.

Berkeley Police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Frankel said BPD has ruled out foul play and listed the fatality as an unattended death. The cause of Jadwin’s death has not been released. Participants in the vigil said they intended to end the evening by holding candles and marching down to the spot where Jadwin died.

Update 1/19: Laura Jadwin’s sister wrote to Berkeleyside about the life and death of her sister.

This article was changed after publication because the reporter mistakenly attributed remarks made by Mike Zint to Mike Lee.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...