Stripped to their core, all the homeless own is the concrete, dirt and their wits.
The concrete is unforgiving, the dirt turns to mud this time of year and the shrewdness to get through the daily terror and isolation of homelessness eventually wears thin.
Homeless people age considerably in just a year, and at least 32 men and women in our city didn’t make it to see the end of 2019. They died of homelessness in the streets of Eugene.
So a coalition of nonprofits that work closely with the homeless banded together in the last three weeks to put together a vigil to honor the fallen. The candlelit ceremony was held Dec. 23, at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.
After all, Lane County doesn’t have a mechanism in place to designate “homelessness” as a cause of death, even though it’s estimated that more than 2,000 homeless people live in Eugene.
Flowers and candles adorned a portion of the plaza on Monday night. Placards were handed out with the names of men and women who died of homelessness this past year. The top of the placard read, “Mourn The Dead, Fight Like Hell For The Living.”
A man played the bagpipes and led the gathering in “Amazing Grace.” The Soromundi Lesbian Choir performed three pieces and later led the roughly 300 mourners in “Silent Night.”
And the names of the 32 homeless men and women known were read. That unenviable task fell to Chelsea Swift of CAHOOTS.
She was strong throughout until she reached the name of 22-year-old Austin Schultz. Swift, who is young herself, stopped for a moment at Schultz’ name and appeared to choke back tears.
After a moment of silence, Schultz spoke of honoring the men and women “who did not choose this lifestyle.”
She spoke passionately about how more freedom is given to planter boxes, paid for through a permit from the city of Eugene, and housing nondescript flowers, than to the men and women who are unhoused for reasons varied and many.
She noted that even the flowers in those boxes will wilt and die in the harsh winter, but they will stay on the sidewalks and force the homeless to dig deeper still into their reservoir of street smarts.
It is no way for a human to live.
The following is the list of the men and women known to have died homeless in Eugene in 2019.
Louis Abreu (b. 1951)
Kory Abeln (b. 1986) Dee Acques (b. 1966)
Kevin Alexander (b.1964) Janna Bauman (b. 1980)
Jesus Benavidas (b. 1962)
Joseph Bertini (b. 1965)
Anthony Billington (b. 1961)
Erik Boismier (b. 1970)
Thomas Campbell (b. 1959)
Jeremy Constant (b. 1979)
Scot Damon (b. 1957)
Stanley Everis (b. 1951)
John Garrett (b. 1952)
Corena Harris (b. 1974)
Roger “Tennessee” Headrick (b. 1954)
Christopher Hoke (b. 1967)
Martin “Moshe” Immerman (b. 1953)
Nealise Jenkins (b. 1957)
Cody Landis (b. 1979)
Mary McClanahan (b. 1987)
Philip McLaughlin (b. 1973)
Annette Montero (b. 1962)
Randall Prim (b. 1951)
Joseph Puls (b. 1980)
James Ray (b. 1962)
Michael Roders (b. 1970)
Austin Schultz (b. 1997)
Marlo Sirota (b. 1975)
Jay Squires (b. 1958)
Ellen Watson (b. 1958)
Robert Van Zante (b. 1961).
A 33rd name, Jeffrey Wright (b. 1977), was added late in the vigil’s official program.