Man found dead at Opportunity Center

A Palo Alto man who lived at the Opportunity Center was found dead in his room, according to a spokesperson for InnVision Shelter Network, which runs the the adjacent Opportunity Services Center on 33 Encina Avenue.

Lonnie Gullette, 63, was found dead in his room on Friday, Nov. 22, and police were called at 11:58 a.m., Officer Sean Downey said. Police believe he died between Nov. 5 and Nov. 22, Nov. 5 being the last confirmed date that someone saw him. The time frame is outside of when Gullette last saw a doctor, Downey said.

Lorin Krogh, a close friend, said he last saw Gullette between two days and a week ago. Gullette had emphysema, he said.

Gullette had not been seen by staff for about two days at the next-door drop-in center, which provides daily services to homeless persons, said Mila Zelkha, director of strategic relations for InnVision Shelter Network. She could not confirm who found Gullette.

"It's a loss of life and it's a very sad thing," she said. "Tenants have rights, and they are not required to have case managers knocking on the door."

Opportunity Center housing is managed by Charities Housing Development Corporation. Zelkha referred further information about Gullette's death to Vanessa Cooper, real estate services director at the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County. Cooper did not return requests for comment.

Gullette, who formerly lived in Carmichael, Calif., had health issues, he told the Weekly earlier this year. He had been under strain since his girlfriend, Vivian "Venus" Sarmago, 60, was allegedly punched and kicked at least 20 times by a drunken man while she was talking on her cell phone in the hallway outside her apartment on July 19.

Sarmago was paralyzed from the attack and remains in a long-term-care facility. Gullette made daily trips to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, taking the bus in his wheelchair.

He was crying about Sarmago's condition the last time Krogh saw him, he said.

"He said, 'I just don't know what to do. She's never going to be the same,'" Krogh recalled.

Gullette is thought to have died from natural causes, and there is no evidence of foul play, Downey said. Police are not investigating the case unless the Santa Clara County Coroner finds a suspicious cause of death, he said.

Gullette had been hospitalized at least two times since July due to his emphysema, Krogh said. He was a contractor prior to becoming homeless.

He hired Krogh to work on the Downtown Streets Team and was his boss there about seven years ago, he said. Gullette was a "lone wolf" who stayed out of the drama that often accompanies life at the Opportunity Center among "a lot of wounded souls," Krogh said.

Gullette was best known around the Opportunity Center for tumbling down a San Fraqncisquito Creek embankment in April, Krogh said. Palo Alto firefighters rescued him near the 500 block of Palo Alto Avenue after he became entangled in vines and brush.

He was suspended 10 to 15 feet above the creek and could not extricate himself, firefighters said at the time. His motorized wheelchair was found nearby. He was not injured.

The Santa Clara County Coroner's office has not officially confirmed Gullette's identity.


Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 25, 2013 at 10:26 am

May he rest in peace.

Like this comment
Posted by Ellie
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

This is so sad. I remember when my neighbor in Newport Beach was found years ago in a similar way. It is shocking. Opportunity Center has been such a needed refuge for so many people over the years. But we can't keep death from our doors no matter what a refuge home provides. Live well now.

Like this comment
Posted by sad
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

Now we see the 2nd victim of that attack, the disabled person whose life depended on the woman who was attacked. This is only adds to the tragedy, that people involved didn't recognize his vulnerability from losing his only support system.

Like this comment
Posted by Martha Shirk
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 25, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Lonnie was a sweet man who I got to know when he came to the Urban Ministry Food Closet several years ago for food. At the time, he was living in his car. He overcame many challenges with the help of InnVision and the VA. Despite his continuing health problems and his inability to work or move around very easily, he was always cheerful. He also watched out for many of Palo Alto's chronic homeless. I hope that the Opportunity Center will organize a memorial service for him

Like this comment
Posted by Solon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Could the weekly publish a nice photo of him?
Some of us may winder if we know him, and when we last talked

Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 25, 2013 at 2:10 pm

"Tenants have rights, and they are not required to have case managers knocking on the door." (from the original story).

This illustrates one of the problems with the OC. The OC is a 'housing first' model, and that is a huge mistake. The proper model, if there is one, is 'sober first' then an opportunity for housing. Every room in the OC should be under a rule that requires a knock on the door, at any random time.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 25, 2013 at 2:16 pm

May he rest in peace, as well as to those who have passed away at other housing complexes (Lytton Gardens, Channing House, The Forum, etc).
I am wondering why this is headline news

Like this comment
Posted by anony
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Solon, the Daily Post printed a photo of Lonnie this morning. (I suspect the Weekly learned about his death from that story.)

Like this comment
Posted by The Phantom
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 25, 2013 at 8:46 pm

San Antonio place a sister building had 5 people pass away in that building in the last 7 years. this is the first time I've ever heard of a death add Opportunity Center.

Like this comment
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 1, 2013 at 3:20 am

I am sadden by the ignorance of a few regarding this thread....
A life had come and gone and for starters one person wondered why this particular person should have had his obituary in the paper????
Are those people even aware that even to get your obituary printed in our local papers, it is a PAID for deal????? Homeless people do not have the luxury of even paying for their own obituary...let alone for a resting place when they pass on...............Hurrah for the Post posting a picture and bring us news..

"Every room in the OC should be under a rule that requires a knock on the door, at any random time.".....That rule smacks of Hitler...
"Tenants have rights, and they are not required to have case managers knocking on the door." Period.

Thank you Martha Shirk for your kind words. Lonnie was an advocate and dedicated himself throughout his own pain and suffering. May he be resting in peace....

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