Sonoma County leaders will host the county’s first-ever memorial service honoring hundreds of residents interred without a funeral.

The memorial service, at Pleasant Hills Memorial Park in Sebastopol, will be held June 10.

“People who pass away without family or means deserve to be remembered,” said county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “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”.

Since 2010, Sonoma County’s indigent burial program interred cremated remains of an estimated 500 unaccounted remains — many of them unhoused or who were otherwise veterans or were estranged from next of kin. Also, approximately 140 people in Sonoma County die each year without any known family. The county’s public administrator’s office attempts to find loved ones; they bury about 45 of the remaining unclaimed deceased in a mass grave.

“Some of our indigents have served in the military or have been fixtures of our community.”

Paul Dunaway, Sonoma County Human Services Department, Adult and Aging Division

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

This historic memorial service will supplement California’s law which has no provisions for a funeral service under Sonoma County’s indigent burial program. Under state law, blood relatives are responsible for the internment of a family member. In cases when families are unreachable or cannot afford interment costs, the county coroner’s office cremates and buries the remains.

The event begins Saturday at 1 p.m. at Pleasant Hills Memorial Park, 1700 Pleasant Hill Road. Organizers include 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.

Charles is a Knight Foundation intern at Bay City News and a Master of Journalist candidate at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He freelanced for Oakland Side and Oakland North on race, equity, and health outcomes in the Bay Area. Before his graduate studies, Charles worked as a Business reporter in Ghana, West Africa, covering financial markets and rising startups. At Bay City News, he is interested in reporting on public health and the intersections of race and equity in the Bay Area.