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.
The Creighton Koshy Family