Sunset Park locals raise funds for burial of homeless neighbor

candlelit vigil for homeless man in sunset park
Neighbors placed candles and flowers on the sidewalk where Steven Legari frequently spent his days in Sunset Park.
Photo by Adam Daly

Sunset Park residents are banding together to cover the burial costs of a recently deceased homeless neighbor who had been living in the area for several years.

Steven Legari had been a fixture on the corner of 62nd Street and 5th Avenue for almost ten years, and local residents and business owners described him as a friendly, kind man who watched over the neighborhood.

A memorial vigil was held Aug. 5, at what became known as Steve’s spot, after the 67-year-old died in the hospital from a sudden heart attack the week prior.

“Everyone who knows me knows about Steve — friend, neighbor, grandfather figure. He was truly one of a kind,” wrote Abigail Wendt, a neighbor and close friend of Legari’s who started a fundraiser to cover his burial expenses.

Wendt said she was able to get in contact with a family member who wanted to give Legari a proper memorial, and that all of the donations will go toward the cremation of his body.

“Steve’s own battle with substance use disorder and homelessness was not unique, but his kind, loving nature and the care he showed to others were. He was loved by our community and deserves a send-off with dignity and care,” wrote Wendt, who built a close bond with Legari when she moved to the neighborhood over two years ago.

celebration of life sign for steven legari in sunset park
Neighbors organized a celebration of life after Legari passed.Photo courtesy of GoFundMe

During the vigil, she recalled the times they had spent together, including holiday periods like when the pair ate steak dinners one Christmas Eve on the sidewalk on 63rd street, and the following Christmas that she spent by his side in hospital “when he was riddled with bed bugs and no nurse wanted to get close to him.”

“I’ll always carry some amount of guilt that I wasn’t there when his soul left our plane. But I’m trying to focus on the times we spent together, both the good and the bad,” she added, noting that he had been alone when he passed.

The owner of a nearby bodega, Brothers Grocery, recalled Steve was a popular person in the neighborhood who was always talking politics, music, art, and literature with friends.

“He was a good, and really smart man, always reading important books and newspapers cover to cover,” Willie Rodriguez told Brooklyn Paper. “Steve covered a lot of Brooklyn during the day, but at night time he would be back outside my store — in the rain and snow.”

Local business owners down the block from Steve’s usual hangout say they will miss him dropping by for a cup of peppermint tea and regular chats.

“He was a good guy. He wasn’t problematic. He was always respectful,” said Alicia Osorio of Last Stop Fruit on 63rd Street and 5th Avenue. “We would never say no if he needed anything, we always tried to help. We cared for him.”

Osorio added that Steve never had to worry about food or drink because everybody on the block also looked out for him.

“When he wasn’t around in the last few weeks everybody was coming in to us and asking if we had seen him. So when everyone found out that he had died, we were all incredibly sad,” she said.

Candles from the Aug. 5 memorial now rest against the spot where Steve had resided, along with a placard asking those who knew him over the years to contribute to his burial fund. Neighbors have so far raised over $1,500, surpassing the goal of the fundraiser.