This is not a blog. It is a memorial.

Last Sunday was cold and wet. Our family was riding to church. On the Going Street bike boulevard, just east of MLK, we saw a gentleman apparently sleeping on the sidewalk next to his shopping carts. We see this every day in Portland. But this time something was clearly not right. We stopped a nearby police officer, who said he would call for help. The ambulance and fire fighters were there in minutes, but they said our neighbor had died sometime in the night, probably of exposure to the elements.

The medical examiner disagreed: according to her, our neighbor had died of ‘natural causes.’

We were skeptical when we heard the term ‘natural causes’ applied to a man who had died sleeping outside on a cold, rainy night.  But perhaps this reaction was unfair. The truth is, our homeless neighbors die of the same things that kill us all; they just do it much more often and earlier than those of us with homes. In fact, at every age group, homeless Americans are three times more likely to die than the rest of us, and the lifespan for a homeless person is just 50 years, as compared with 78 years for the general population in the US. Exposure to the elements may not always kill you outright, but it  is hard on human beings. According to this report by Multnomah County, homeless people died on our streets nearly once a week in 2011.

So what are we called to do? In church that morning, we heard these words from John the Baptist:

“Whoever  has two coats must share with the one who doesn’t have any, and the person who has food must do the same.”

We know we fail to live up to this teaching every day.

We talked as a family, and decided we were not guilty in this matter, but we do bear responsibility as residents of a city where people are forced to sleep–and sometimes to die– out in the cold every night of the year. We also bear added responsibility because we were witness to the fact that one of our neighbors has passed away on a street so near our own home. And none of us should go un-remembered.

We decided to do three things. First, we would make this small memorial, in honor of a man who we saw many times but never stopped to talk with. Second, we would donate one day’s worth of our family’s wages  to organizations working to stop this kind of thing from happening.  Finally, we agreed we would each write a letter to a local leader asking them to help make our city one where people do not have to sleep or die on our streets.

We invite you to join us in this. At the top right of this page, you will see links to pages which contain places where you can make donations or get involved. We wanted to suggest you make donations in the name of our deceased neighbor, but his name is being withheld.  You will also find ideas about things you can do: people to whom you can write, organizations where you might volunteer. If you add more links in the comments section, we will add those links to the appropriate pages. If you like this project, please pass it on to your own friends and family.

In peace,

The Creighton Koshy Family


10 Responses to “Why”

  1. I Ibrahim, am the founder of Right 2 Survive and Chairperson of Right 2 Dream Too. I and the members of right 2 survive/right 2 dream too send our deepest sorrows to you, your family and the family and friends of the Houseless person, that was called home.

    So often do we over look the obvious as we go about our daily lives. It’s easier at times to believe that people are outside by choice rather than by circumstance. This way it’s easier to drive or walk past them without feelings of regret.

    I want to thank you for taking the time to check on this houseless person. The fact that you stopped is admirable and deserves recognition. I believe your heart and spirit is in the right place and I pray that you have a joyous holiday. Thank you again for caring for the welfare of those of us that are less fortunate. As we continue our struggle to have equality and safety for all human beings. I can be contacted thru my E-mail at i_tpop@hotmail.com. I would to talk with you again I iterate thank you and your family very much.

    Ibrahim Mubarak
    Chairperson R2D Too

    • Ibrahim– thanks for joining us here and for the work you do, which we appreciate very much. We’ll be in touch.

  2. Thank you for doing this, and for your support of these great organizations. I second all that Ibrahim wrote here, and would also like to extend an invitation to join me for lunch in Sisters’ Cafe. Thank you and best wishes.
    Heather Dorfman
    Development Co-Manager, Sisters Of The Road

  3. Thank you for sharing this sorrowful experience and bringing this issue to light by doing so. Ibrahim expressed very well the problem with the insensitivity of the average person, not comprehending what a person who must sleep on the street, for whatever reason, must go through simply trying to survive. Everyone deserves to live in dignity. I am sharing it further on Facebook. ~♥~

    • Thanks Ruthie. I think many people come across as insensitive because we feel helpless in the face of how much need is out there these days. The problem is, the more we allow ourselves to ignore the need around us, the more it hardens our hearts. It’s a tough cycle. We need to continue to challenge ourselves to be generous. And we need to challenge our city–leaders and citizens–to deal with these issues in a meaningful way.

  4. I commend you for your efforts here in providing resources on where to give and how. It would be nice if this idea would spread into the community. Most people just walk by someone sleeping in the streets but your gut told you that something was not right and you took the time, on your way to church to stop and make a call. Yeah for you! I think that we have all become insensitive to those who live without and have no place to lay their heads. It is not for us to judge the reasons why, it is our place to lend a hand, a coat, some food or a bed.

    “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” Mahatma Gandhi

  5. I live in Eugene. Similar neighborhood stories. Winter is here. We have a group of practitioners providing free medical care to all comers, regardless of station in life. Feel free to check our website, and let folks know if they’re coming down I-5 and haven’t seen a doc for a while. We’re familiar and comfortable with the unhoused community, both new and long-term. My name is Dr Leigh. occupymedics.wordpress.com

  6. have seen this on my own street twice in 9 years…..so sad……especially when there are so many empty bldgs everywhere that folks could keep warm in. social injustice

    • I Ibrahim am inviting all who wants to come to our meeting every Thursday at Sisters of the roads Cafe’ from 5pm-7pm and discuss this topic of empty buildings for houseless people and how we as a whole can present this to the city counsel . As of right now Right 2 Survive/ Right 2 Dream Too are in a battle with the BDS and Commissioner Dan Saltsman over the exesistance of the Right 2 Dream Too rest area where houseless people can go and get safe, warm and a ,dry place to sleep.

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