When Morris Pyatt chose a grassy patch of real estate on a quiet residential street in Culver City, he was most likely unaware that his new “resting space” came with unique property management—the Religious Sisters of Charity, a Catholic order established in Ireland.
A decade later, the faith and determination of five sisters from the order, along with the kind generosity of councilman Mehaul O’Leary, and, a bit of Irish luck, brought the man that society had rejected, home.
The man, known simply as Morris, had become displaced with the closure of Pleasant View, a board and care facility on Washington Boulevard. He could not have chosen an otherwise more compassionate community of neighbors with whom to negotiate his day-to-day street life.
In addition to the sisters, who all hail from Ireland, there were members of both the Chinese Christian Assembly and the King Fayad Mosque, to whom Morris regularly turned for his basic needs of food and clothing.
Visits to nearby 7 Eleven often yielded coffee and cans of fruit that could be easily consumed by one lacking a set of teeth. Attentive to his hygiene, he reportedly took showers at Bally’s and, what clothes the Sisters didn’t launder, he simply replaced with fresher hand-me-downs.
Life was no picnic for Morris. He was often disoriented and struggled with schizophrenic bouts that provoked foul language as he fought with the demons that attacked his head. This was particularly off-putting to local businesses. Concerned citizens tried to find him assistance, but he refused to be subjected to the conditions and confines of public shelters.
Morris disappeared during a damp cold snap in early January 2010. A body was soon discovered under a carport and taken to Brotman Hospital. The individual died of pneumonia. He would later be identified as Morris Pyatt.
The Sister’s intention to provide Morris a dignified burial was impeded by various legal, social and financial hurdles. The only known family member, a long-estranged brother, was not willing to claim the body. Patient confidentiality rules prohibit the release of information to individuals who are non-next-of-kin. Instead, community members came to a candlelight service held in Morris’ honor at his usual outdoor spot – the small patch of grassy green in front of the Sisters’ small apartment complex.
Sister Margaret Farrell, Covenant House California’s Spiritual Ministry Coordinator, is a fierce advocate for those fallen through our public systems of care – a role that each year seems to include a tragic death or two. It is often only through Sister Margaret’s resolve and community ties that a burial or memorial is made possible.
Sister Margaret learned that Morris’ body was being held at the County Coroner’s office — one of more than 1,000 unclaimed bodies that come in on an annual basis. Morris’ release required a visit and application to County USC; but what stood between the retrieval of his cremains was the sum of $350. Sister Margaret simply did not have the money.
Sister Margaret thought, perhaps, Culver City would have a provision for its homeless residents. After the many bureaucratic county channels she had embarked on to no avail, she called former city mayor and newly elected councilman Mehaul O’Leary. He listened intently and told her the City had no funds for the purpose of cremains – retrieval nor burial. However, the Sister received an earnest commitment of support toward Morris’s burial– a promise that was kept by Councilman O’Leary and his entire campaign committee.
Morris was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery on May 14. Before the short burial service took place, Father Joseph Idomele expressed his gratitude to the community. He was genuinely touched that those present had gone to such lengths for a man that seemed to hold no community status.
Finally, Culver City resident, Morris Pyatt has been brought home.
Culver City resident, Regina Klein is a past story contributor and columnist for the Culver City News/Blue Pacific Papers. For over a decade, she has served homeless youth drawn to Hollywood and the Bay area, through her fulltime fundraising efforts at Covenant House California.