There is no honor in being homeless.
There is no honor in being caricatured by society for being homeless, for the perception of not having moral strength, for not being able to bathe and look presentable, to being run out of any building for temporary shelter from the elements, even to use a restroom, to being on a waitlist for housing that moves infuriatingly slow.
There is no honor in being forced into homelessness by physical injury and lost income, by mental illness, by addiction illness or by the sudden loss of employment because of circumstances beyond anyone’s control. There is no honor in stealing to survive, to pushing a grocery cart or living inside a makeshift tent, and there is certainly no honor when that tent has to be moved every 24 to 48 hours.
Yet there is honor and dignity among each and every man and woman who is homeless, a grace that is too often ignored by passersby, perhaps fearful that they can see themselves if they look for too long.
Tragically, public honor and dignity for the homeless comes usually after their deaths on the street, and on Dec. 21 — Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year — Eugene had two candlelight vigils to honor the men and women who died homeless in Lane County in 2023, part of the nationwide Homeless Persons Remembrance Day.
The first was at Monroe Park, organized by the nonprofits Black Thistle Street Aid and Community Outreach through Radical Empowerment (CORE), and the second was at the downtown Park Blocks, organized by the city of Eugene’s Human Rights Commission’s Homelessness and Poverty Work Group. Each offered hot meals and hot beverages on a damp, chilly night as well as winter coats and toiletries to appreciative people. The memorial at Monroe Park commemorated the fallen with luminarias along the sidewalk.
Each memorial also read the names of the men and women who died homeless this year in Lane County, and in 2023, that number is staggering.
According to Oregon Health Authority, 71 homeless men and women died in Lane County through October of this year, second only to Multnomah County’s 231 deaths and just shy of the 78 “domicile unknown” deaths Lane County had in all of 2022. There was a grim resignation at both memorials that Lane County doubtlessly surpassed the 2022 number in November during a cold weather snap.
And Matt Keating, a Eugene city councilor, wonders if that number is too low. Before the memorial at the Park Blocks, Keating noted that homelessness both creates and exacerbates mental and physical illnesses. Small health problems can immediately swell into larger issues, especially if a homeless person has no health insurance to lean on.
Public honor and dignity for the homeless should not wait another Winter Solstice, another nationwide Homeless Persons Remembrance Day. More government and nonprofit intervention is needed.
Fight like hell for the living.
The following is a list of 64 of the people known to have died homeless in Lane County in 2023, supplied by Black Thistle Street Aid. Some are listed by just their first names, others by their street names.
Richard Dormer Sr.