So it turns out that, as was feared, Melvin, the homeless guy who was a fixture in Kenmore Square for more than 30 years, has died.
Melvin died of an apparent heroin overdose Oct. 16 in a park next to the Fenway Victory Garden, a half mile from his familiar perch on the stoop of the derelict West Gate building.
For the past week, officials who work with the homeless had been trying to confirm Melvin’s fate after word spread that he had died. Confusion reigned, however, because Melvin had used different last names in his different interactions with different sorts of people.
The friendly homeless guy who generations of Boston University students and Kenmore Square denizens knew as Melvin Ramos was actually Melvin Matias.
“Ramos was his mother’s name,” Victor Matias, Melvin’s brother, told me Monday afternoon.
Victor had no idea that those who cared about Melvin had been trying to confirm his death after a memorial service at BU had been held and a candlelight vigil organized by a BU student had drawn dozens of people to a makeshift shrine for Melvin.
“That’s pretty amazing that people would care enough about my brother to do that,” he said.
Dr. Jim O’Connell, who leads Boston Health Care for the Homeless, was among those looking for Melvin. On Friday, O’Connell went to the state medical examiner’s office to view the body of a man who had died of a heroin overdose Oct. 24 in the Dunkin’ Donuts in Kenmore Square. O’Connell thought the man closely resembled Melvin, but had some doubts and held off positively identifying him pending a check of fingerprints.
On Monday, the ME’s office figured out Melvin’s body had been released to his family on Oct. 19. Melvin had been listed in the ME’s records as Melvin Mathias. He had also sometimes spelled his name Metias.
“Because the spelling was different, the initial search did not reveal any matches,” said Felix Browne, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety. “They were able to link the cases this morning because Dr. O’Connell reviewed the medical records and found a Melvin Matias.”
Melvin had been held in Suffolk County jail since July 7 for a parole violation after he was found with a homeless man who had died in the Muddy River. He was released Oct. 16, and three hours later he was dead.
John Hellyer, who gathers bottles and cans around Kenmore Square and was friendly with Melvin, told me that Melvin scored some heroin within hours of his release. Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, paramedics from Boston EMS found Melvin collapsed against a tree, surrounded by several syringes. He was pronounced dead at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.
“His only son, his only child, died of the same thing in June,” Victor Matias said. “It’s a terrible thing.”
Melvin’s son was 32. Melvin made it to 53, but they were a hard 53 years, most of them spent living rough on the streets of Boston.
Victor Matias told me he tried to help his brother over the years, as did other family members. “But he wanted to be on the street,” Victor said.
Victor said Melvin was never the same after their family’s house in Dorchester caught fire in 1981. Two of their brothers, Israel, 16, and George, 13, were killed in the fire. A sister was later institutionalized.
“It was very hard on our family,” Victor said. “My brother had his demons, but he was a good soul.”
One of Victor’s favorite memories was visiting Melvin on the stoop at the West Gate. “I stood there and everybody was so nice to him,” Victor said. “Everybody knew him. It made him happy.”
Melvin Matias was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn after a priest who shared the same name as his dead brother Israel celebrated a funeral Mass at St. Joseph’s. Melvin Ramos lives on, in the memories of so many people who took the time to talk to the guy who sat outside the West Gate.