Growing up in Southern California, Gloria Pfund lived a charmed life in an upper middle-class family, with horses, nice clothes and caring parents.
On the night of Saturday, Jan. 28, she was found dead in the entryway to a care center in Eugene, apparently from a drug overdose, hypothermia or the physical costs of living unhoused for decades, her family says. She was 66.
Pfund was born in Arcadia, California, the middle of three children, to Edward Pfund Jr., an aerospace engineer, and Marga Pfund, a housewife, but she grew up in the upscale Los Angeles suburb of Rolling Hills Estates on the Palos Verdes Peninsula after her father got a job with the U.S. space program.
“Her mother was into taking the kids outdoors. They had a horse paddock and a horse,” recalls Leah Rosin, Gloria Pfund’s niece in Eugene. “She had a pretty privileged background, and she was young and beautiful.”
Pfund went to modeling school and later became a beautician, her family says.
Beauty and privilege didn’t protect the young Pfund from mental illness. She began taking drugs such as LSD at the age of 16, says her older sister, Angela Andre, and became increasingly erratic in her behavior, eventually leading to a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Pfund was twice institutionalized for care after suicide attempts, one of which left scars on her wrist that she used to cover with scrunchies. Each time, she was released without any support program, the family says.
Money was not the problem in finding treatment for Pfund, Andre says; her father left her a trust fund when he died. Instead, the problem, she says, was a mental health system that no longer provides care for seriously ill people who will not consent to treatment.
“She went from halfway house to halfway house, on and off the streets, and burning bridges as she went,” Andre says. “She was a kleptomaniac. She was sex addicted, a smoker. She was not a pleasant person to be around.”
When Pfund was in her early 20s, Andre says, she married a California man she had met through a born-again church — and left him the next day when she found that her new husband had traded all the wedding presents for cocaine. The marriage was later annulled.
Andre brought Pfund to Eugene in hopes of finding treatment. Here Pfund began going to a local church, got involved with local drug users and became increasingly paranoid, Rosin says.
Andre started a long and ultimately hopeless attempt to find adequate institutional care for Pfund. Each time she was institutionalized, her family says, Pfund was released back into the community, usually with housing but with no effective supervision.
As her illness degenerated, she became nearly impossible to help. “When she was not well,” Rosin says, “she was incredibly cross, incredibly angry and incredibly hard to be around. She got pushed out of almost every health facility in town that could possibly take her in.”
What killed Pfund, her family says, was bureaucracy and the lack of facilities in Oregon that could hold Pfund against her will for treatment. Andre says her sister was legally committed for psychiatric care three times, but always released because of a lack of space.
The last time Andre saw Pfund was Jan. 27, when they met outside a crisis center in Eugene. Andre had managed to arrange a court hearing to be appointed legal guardian for her sister, but Pfund refused to attend the hearing.
Pfund was found dead the next evening outside a Eugene care facility where she had once been treated; the center had sent her to Portland, where she was then sent back to Eugene because there was no room for her.
“Ever since Ronald Reagan closed all the mental institutions, there is no place to put these people,” Andre says. “They are never going to get better. Our solution is to let them hang out until they die.”
No memorial is planned. The family asks that Eugene Weekly readers forward copies of this story to their political representatives around the state. Donations in Gloria Pfund’s name can be made to CAHOOTS.
Eugene Weekly seeks to run obituaries for those who die homeless in Lane County. If you know of someone who has died while homeless this year, please let us know at Editor@EugeneWeekly.com.