Priest Brings Zen to S.F.'s Neediest Souls

January 3, 2007

Author: Justin Berton

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Inside the community room of the Raman Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel at Howard and Sixth streets, Jana Drakka set up a makeshift altar for a tenant named Guillermo who had died a week earlier.

"Memo," as his fellow residents and caseworkers knew him, was a 76-year-old World War II veteran as well as an alcoholic who had ricocheted among the city's streets and homeless shelters.

He had spent most of his last three years at the Raman, one of city's low-rent SROs, and the 16 people who had gathered at his memorial reflected the tail end of his life: eight tenants from the Raman and eight social workers who had met him at rehab clinics, nursing facilities and a halfway house for parolees on the mend -- but not a family member in sight.

At the altar, Drakka, an ordained Buddhist priest, dressed in a layered kamboa, dropped pear incense onto a piece of charcoal and offered a prayer.

"Memo," she said in her lithe Scottish accent, "we're here to give you a proper send-off."