The family of a woman found dead in Heritage Park in Palo Alto on Dec. 21 had enlisted the nonprofit InnVision Shelter Network to track her down two days before she died, but the homeless-services organization couldn't find her in time.
Gloria Bush, 72, died near the bench she frequently sat on in the downtown park. The Santa Clara County Coroner had not determined the cause of her death as of Monday afternoon, but Palo Alto police said there were no signs of foul play.
Bush had a daughter who lives out of state. Her mother had been homeless for 15 years due to mental illness, she said in an email to the Palo Alto Weekly.
"She was loved and not forgotten by her family. She refused help from us, and legally we could not force her to accept assistance such as housing and medical/psychiatric care. We were unable to get conservatorship," she said.
The daughter was in regular communication with Philip Dah, program director at the Opportunity Center in Palo Alto, which is run by InnVision and provides services for homeless and at-risk families, a spokeswoman said.
"She was concerned about her mother and reached out to Philip a couple of days ago. A group of service providers and Philip fanned out across the city looking for her, but Philip did not find her," said Mila Zelkha, director of strategic relations at InnVision.
Bush's daughter asked in an email to Dah if staff had seen her in the past few days. She would call once in a while to ask for someone to check on her mother and the family kept in touch about her with InnVision Shelter Network, he said. He speculated that the daughter was concerned because the temperatures have been so cold.
Dah recalled that Bush was a gentle person.
"She really never spoke with anybody. She was just very nice and sweet," he said.
Bush was a loving and dedicated mother and devoted herself to help others, her daughter said.
But mental illness eventually overtook her. She was hospitalized twice, at age 18 and in her early 40s, her daughter said. By the time she was in her 50s, she could not hold down a job.
Bush was one of the city's more than 100 chronically homeless people and was a regular at the Breaking Bread hot-meals program in Palo Alto. She also received food from the Food Closet food-pantry program, Zelkha said. But she was not an active client of InnVision, which meant she didn't get services from the organization and didn't have a case manager, she said.
"They were not able to engage to have her come to the Opportunity Center," said Zelkha, who called the issue of homeless people not accepting services a "sobering topic."
She said homeless people refuse services for a variety of reasons, ranging from incorrect assumptions about the programs to mental health issues.
"We would love to work with them and to get them into a safer situation," she said.
Neighbors around Heritage Park said Bush sat every morning at the park bench but kept to herself. A passer-by found her at 7:17 a.m. at the corner of Waverley Street and Homer Avenue and reported to police that she was on the ground and did not appear to be breathing. She lay amid her belongings.
Bush's death came two days after a memorial service at the Opportunity Center for Lonnie Gullette, 63, a client who had died of natural causes in his room on Nov. 22. The memorial incorporated a service for others in the homeless and at-risk community who had died during the year, Zelkha said.
"It is not uncommon to lose people. They are individuals who are part of the community here," she said. "They die from poor health and exposure to the elements and other chronic issues."
Some neighbors who frequently saw Bush said they were saddened by the news. Bush stayed to herself, Savannah Murphy said.
"I kind of felt like I knew her," she said.
Murphy and a friend would try to talk to Bush. They asked for her shoe size, hoping they could get her some decent-fitting shoes, she said. But Bush did not engage with them.
"My friend and I always waved to her just to let her know that two blonde, pony-tailed girls were there. Homeless people are a part of our community, too.
"She was a child once; she was a daughter once -- she was a person. I can see her eyes in my mind right now. She was a part of the tapestry of Palo Alto, and we should honor her," Murphy said.
A memorial service for Bush will be held on Thursday, Dec. 26 at 11 a.m. at the Breaking Bread meal program at All Saints Episcopal Church, 555 Waverley St., Palo Alto.